[21 October 2007]
Something’s been happening to Black Dice. Slowly, over the course of their 10-year tenure on the lips of never satisfied, fringe seekers who comprise the noise scene they’ve been changing and suddenly, without us quite realising, they’re not a noise band any more, they’re a dance act. Load Blown, the Brooklyn group’s eighth full-length, jitters to the kind of propulsive elation you get from intelligent electronica, while still staying true to their already well described industrialism/noise roots.
Load Blown is an amalgam of 12-inch records released over the past year on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks’ label. Though the group has been lumped in with Animal Collective in the past, historically they’ve been more kindred spirits than particularly linked musically. Actually they seem to be moving in parallel directions, as Animal Collective mines a rich vein of wonder and innocence in more accessible psych-shrouded indie pop, Black Dice is moving more towards the territory of earlier AC material. There’s always been something more mechanical and artificial about Black Dice’s music, it’s what gets them labelled a noise act, but on the recent songs that make up Load Blown the group hits at an underlying optimism, a kind of celebration, that’s reminiscent of the other group’s ecstasy-fueled wonder.
The sense is most patent on a couple of songs in the middle of the record. In particular, “Scavenger” becomes a kind of psychedelic paean, hidden beneath industrial squalls. After a series of bursts of noise, the song settles into something resembling a steady groove. The material gets chewed over, processed then reprocessed into a skeleton dance around blazing oil wells, with some hopping out to a tanker out on the Atlantic. “Roll Up”‘s got a similar feeling. Over a heaving, overbearing shuffle ghosts of shimmery sludge rebound off metal tins and corrugated iron. Reviewers get metaphoric over this kind of music because it’s quite difficult to describe. Either way, the song is entirely new sounding to our quickly disillusioned ears and is a total success.
These steps all undermine Black Dice’s reputation as one of the most resistant of Brooklyn’s art-bands to casual approach. Actually, the coalescing of chaos into something approaching the ordered groove of beat-fuelled electronica serves as an appropriate moment for distinction between Black Dice and those other gnarly Brooklynites, Excepter. Whereas the latter have been playing around with basic songform, setting up and undercutting expectation with an academic, over listenability bent, Black Dice’s noisy grooves have a more identifiable emotion beneath the mess and junk.
Ultimately, this makes it easier to like and understand the band. This is the case on the serenely-drifting spaceship that is “Drool”: this soft-synth melody that overlies the fuzzy industrial sound has a hind of Gaelic pastoral about it, and the expected assault never comes, leaving you unexpectedly calm and weightless.
There is always a lot going on in Black Dice’s music, and this album’s no different. Sure, the blatant innuendo of their song titles may no longer surprise us, but it’s easy to forget that even in the band’s seemingly calmer moments the layers of sound and noise make this decidedly maximal music. “Bananas” is a great case in point. Behind a machine-shutting-down effect, the vocals strain to form discernible words. Because of all the affect is over the top, you hardly notice that the beat has found a steady chug, this aquatic ping that is in fact quite compelling and which unexpectedly overtakes the whole song.
So it turns out Black Dice know full well what they’re doing, these days. Load Blown won’t find as many new fans, perhaps, as Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam ,(surely one of the best releases of the year); but for those looking for a bit of an adventure, this new music is surprisingly accessible. True, if some robotic society made music it might sound something like Black Dice; but I’ll bet this group would surely be the maestros of that sterile world. In the end, it’s the ever emerging thread of humanity that draws us back to Black Dice and their ultimately non-hostile music.