If you're on the hunt for a large female choir and find the Military Wives a little too establishment, a little too bland, a little too dull then the 20ish girl strong Gaggle are the choir for you. Gaggle is a response to dull, formulaic, male oriented, indie, miming female puppets and X Factor conformity. In a musical era dominated by the frankly ordinary, Gaggle are extraordinary and their debut album From The Mouth of the Cave is one of the most original, unusual, inventive and frankly bonkers albums released in 2012. It's the sound of the grand daughters of Annabella Lwin and Grace Jones, the daughters of riot grrrl and the sisters of Bjork, Amanda Palmer and Stefani Germanotta having a party and we're all invited.
The collective, formed out of the ashes of idiosyncratic indie band 586, have been thrilling festival goers and discerning Gaggle watchers for over three years and their debut is one of the most anticipated albums of the year. It doesn't disappoint. The girls chant, sing, shout, babble, holler and howl about everything from alienation ('Lullaby'), the power of collective action ('Army of Birds') and the problems of capitalism ('The Power of Money'). These girls mean business. If the world can be changed simply by the power of the voice alone then Gaggle are the musical liberation army.
The album opens with a church organ and what sounds like a blacksmith beating the shit out of his anvil while the girls chant "Come with me... or I'll die." You'll have to search long and hard to find a better opening track than 'From The Mouth Of The Cave' on an album this year. The life affirming 'Army of Birds' could be the result of a previously unknown Malcolm McLaren experiment to produce a choir of multiple clones of Annabella Lwin while 'Liars' sounds like it's been lifted straight from a musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber's radical feminist sister. 'The Power of Money' is as close to the Slits produced by Gareth Malone as you'll ever get. While the chant "I hate the power of money, making people rich or poor" seems a little trite when written down, on record it has more power than an Obama election address. One listen and you're ready to give up all your earthly possessions and join the Gaggle crusade.
When it works the Gaggle alternative choir shtick soars and lifts you to a higher plane of existence like The Polyphonic Spree on red bull. When it doesn't it is borderline unlistenable. 'Gaslight' is such a jumble of sounds and voices that repeated listens could induce a migraine. Things get even stranger on 'Congo', a thankfully sub sixty seconds of atonal jungle drumming, whooping and screaming. It's the point at which experimental becomes self indulgent, pretentious tosh and the album would be better for its omission. Thankfully such missteps are rare and the girls get back on track with the unsettling simplicity of 'Lullaby' and the alternative West End musical manoeuvres of the more mainstream 'Hello Spider', which has to be the collective's next single.
From The Mouth Of The Cave dares to be different and, in stretching the boundaries it sometimes gets a little messy and lapses into self indulgence. But when bland, conservative and safe is the default option for far too many acts in 2012, it's hard to criticise a band who aren't afraid to experiment, aren't afraid to stand out from the crowd and are willing to push the envelope as far as they can. Give thanks that Gaggle exists and make the world a more interesting place in which to live.