Black Dice: Broken Ear Record

[6 October 2005]

By Josh Berquist

An affinity for that ambiguous genre known as noise isn’t an acquired aesthetic as much as it is a holistic appreciation for sound. Whereas most music is considered by conventions of structure, rhythm, and melody, noise asks only to be accepted as aural sensation. That inherent hedonism belies the snobby pretension so often associated with this particular scene. Behind whatever guise or image a noise artist employs, their work is ultimately a celebration of sound’s potential to live on beyond conventional confines.

Regrettably this advocation of audio efficacy is all too often obstructed by dour facades. Latching on to the unconventional nature of noise and using that as a wedge between themselves and their audience, all too many noise artists shroud themselves in somber or antisocial fronts. The possibility of pure pleasure is lost or at least obscured. Yet even among the most assaultive artists, there is some sense of almost sadomasochistic pleasure suggesting beauty amidst abuse. If noise was only unlistenable it would simply cease to exist. That a small but ardent set of adventurous listeners seek it out establishes that there must be an appeal at work.

Brooklyn’s Black Dice have an uncanny understanding of just how appealing noise can be. Having exorcised their affronting impulses over a series of increasingly amicable releases, the band aims to indulge with their most outrightly pleasurable effort yet. Broken Ear Record is a jittering jumble of giddy good times, slow rolling drone tones, fuzzy orange phasers, and disjointed jalopy junk beats. It is sound for the sake of sound, relieved of any expectation and allowed to roll around about and in the ears as freely as the pulse it projects.

Opening with a haphazard stomp and grind just barely in time enough to constitute a cohesive rhythm, “Snarly Yow” starts the record and soon establishes the tones and trajectory that define it. Brittle beats and booming bass tones shift and swirl into tribal two-steps and clattering stumbles. Electronics hiss, howl, and holler in their most endearing attempt at human happiness. Bubbling beeps burst out into shrill squeals. Set against the pulsing flow of an ever expanding beat, the gratuitous swell and release of sound assumes almost pornographic connotations. Somewhere on the set of Tron, Pac-Man revels in a drunken orgy of electric elephants.

All of this evolves over eight minutes that see the song enticing the ears out to play, pushing them up to plateaus of arousal, easing back into more meditative moments, returning to sensory abandon, and then relenting into lolling retreat. Again in structure as in sound, erotic invocations are made and the end result is as satiating as it is invigorating.

The songs that follow employ those same elements; rhythms shift and snake, tones tweak and turn, and all of it proceeds along over varying states of arousal. “Smiling Off” shoots fluorescent lasers over a pool of sawing synths as twenty tin cans rush to take their places for the big tap dance number. After easing back into a wash of booming bass and treated voice, the synths come skipping back on over a jock-jamming beat jacked right out from under Gary Glitter. The song ends with ambient tones drifting in as an auto ignition jams on a set of wind chimes with a TR-808 in the tail pipe.

After such a blissed out barrage, “Heavy Manners” acts as an extended release and showcases two of Black Dices most understated strengths. Especially in noise, the human voice is oftentimes obtrusive against an electronic background. Black Dice minimize that liability by fully integrating voices into their soundscape. So treble-cut and bass-boosted are the vocals on “Heavy Manners” that they’re barely discernable as human at all. They act only as another instrument and never as a distraction. Within this song Black Dice also exhibit their resistance to clichés by employing the shimmering sound of clean channeled guitar where so many others would opt for feedback and fuzz. This hushed swirl of sound flows effortlessly into the lull of ascending bass tones in “ABA”.

“Street Dude” bubbles back up with overheated amplifiers and a rickety rollicking rhythm. Another voice enters unnoticed as glistening guitar tones and stuttering static advance against an oncoming flood of reverberations. Here again another one of Black Dice’s defining features emerges. For all that goes on in any one song, Black Dice still sound very much like a band of three individual members. Not prone to excessive overdubs, Black Dice keep things simple but not sparse. Every tone is as exaggerated as it needs to be, but there is never such an overabundance of sonic structures in play that any one of them goes unnoticed.

Just as important to their sound is the unbridled sense of fun on full display in “Twins”. Clink-clanking along to the pulse beat with horn blasts and shrill giggles, twenty five robots clamor around a steal piñata. “Motorcycle” picks up the pace with a down-home hootenanny stomp-along and some yelping vocal percussion as indebted to Animal Collective as it is to Mike Patton. Another rhythm rolls in over scattershot staccato blasts of electronics longing to drone on into the album’s end.

Concluding with the same diminuendo that closed out “Smiling Off”, the album completes the cycle of excitement and release established in that first song and comes to a cohesive close. Such masterful realization and resolution of intended trajectory is an admirable achievement within any genre. Still this is a noise record and consequently absolved of any such measure. All that matters is it brings about sonic pleasure and it certainly does that in abundance. Admittedly that’s just not going to be enough for a lot of people and they’ll decry this wondrous work of art as tossed off or even terrible. But those people probably don’t have dirty dreams about Pac-Man either, so ultimately it’s their loss.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/blackdice-broken/