In a simpler world, Gang Gang Dance’s Brian DeGraw might have chosen to embark on a solo career under the initials BDG. He might have filled his full-length debut with easygoing synth-pop, and bestowed upon it a modest title like Someone. With DeGraw, however, little comes easy, and even less is simple—and so under the cumbersome moniker bEEdEEgEE, he brings us SUM/ONE, a restless, speculative, ADHD-generation medley of rhythmic rambling and avant-pop orchestration. At times, it plays less like an album than a lab experiment, with DeGraw taking bits and pieces of mainstream dance music and running them through a particle collider; it’s noble work, and it produces the occasional moment of triumph, if only you’re willing to wade through all of the noise.
With Gang Gang Dance on something of a hiatus following 2011’s stellar Eye Contact, DeGraw had an entire year to spend crafting his solo debut in his upstate New York studio, and if there’s anything SUM/ONE is not, it’s in a hurry. But all of this time and space prove more curse than blessing; rarely does an album with so much going on manage to do so little with it. On “(F.U.T.D.) Time of Waste,” DeGraw tries to give voice to his listlessness with a guest appearance from Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor: “All I wanna do is fuck up the day/Started out late with nothing to say.” But what starts as a lively electro-house foot-stomper drags on ad nauseam, waveform piling on top of waveform, movement on top of movement, until what is ostensibly a meditation on idle frivolity becomes an overblown exercise in anything but.
As a producer, DeGraw’s sonic instincts are nearly beyond reproach, his carefully sculpted synthscapes frequently gorgeous and never boring. But maximalist excess afflicts too much of SUM/ONE, to rapidly diminishing returns. The Debussy-on-acid eclecticism of “Helium Anchor” kicks things off rousingly enough; it’s not long, though, before all the rhythmic and melodic mania turn the album into a child that won’t sit still. SUM/ONE’s best moments are those of relative peace—like ambient slow-burner “Empty Vases”—or, failing that, those in which DeGraw forces himself to compress all of his energy and ideas into as tight a space as possible, as on the grimy dance-pop number “Overlook.” Amid all the clutter, it helps to remember that there’s beauty to be found in simplicity too.