Music

Black Dice: Mr. Impossible

Black Dice’s newest album sees them treading the line between noise and pop without conclusively choosing either.


Black Dice

Mr. Impossible

Label: Ribbon Music
US Release Date: 2012-04-10
UK Release Date: 2012-04-10
Amazon
iTunes

Black Dice isn’t exactly a band that you decide to listen to on a whim. Their sound is often described as “difficult” and “unique”, which is just music critic talk for saying that it’s just plain bizarre. With their newest release, Mr. Impossible, they’ve become even more opaque, despite tracks being neatly organized into short songs with motifs and patterns modeled after pop. Of course, when your motifs are bursts of noise and obscure samples, all notions of pop music are thrown out the window. But Black Dice doesn’t and never has worked to create Top 40 hits; instead, their noise-rock leanings have left them willfully in the background of today’s indie scene, despite having influenced prominent groups like Animal Collective and No Age. Unfortunately for Black Dice, the bands that they’ve influenced have done much more with their sound than they ever have. Mr. Impossible finds the band taking a small step into accessibility, but a step back in terms of development.

Perhaps because of the complex layers that Black Dice have created in their songs, they could never be described as boring. They’ve never been the easiest band to listen to, but they’ve always produced records with at least bits of genius. On Mr. Impossible, we see fewer of these layers as Black Dice go back to basics, with mainly just playing with different rhythms. The strange musique concrete and ambient combination that was present on debut record Beaches & Canyons is gone; likewise the unhinged dance rhythms from parts of Repo have taken a backseat on Mr. Impossible, in favor of basic noise loops and drummed rhythms. Unfortunately, this greatly limits the band's ability -- most tracks are indistinguishable and, worse, bland with repetition. It’s problematic that a record with so many eclectic sounds and influences can wear on a listener so easily, but the sparks of creativity from their earlier works just aren’t present on Mr. Impossible. Black Dice have always tried to shock the listener and surprise them when they least expect it. Here, they take too much of an organized role. Unlike most artists, Black Dice create their best music when wild and jumbled, creating varied soundscapes and noises. Without this chaos, there is little to keep the listener interested.

That isn’t to say the whole album is awful. It seems that Black Dice have gone as far as they wanted with being difficult. On their most pop-based record, two tracks especially stand out: “Pigs” and “Spy Vs. Spy”. “Pigs” sounds like a deconstructed industrial take on Black Sabbath’s classic “War Pigs”, with heavy riffs and frantic incoherent voices; “Spy Vs. Spy” on the other hand is twisted spy film theme. Both of these tracks work to the band’s strength of twisting simple themes into their own style; unsurprisingly, they’re also two of the “poppiest” moments on the record.

The biggest problem with Mr. Impossible is that ideas aren’t fleshed out, despite the length of many tracks. When this happens, repetition of themes doesn’t reinforce the music, but instead makes it dull and lifeless. The soul that was present on Beaches & Canyons is hard to find on Mr. Impossible. But stripping down their music to basics, Black Dice have lost the soul in their music. The neatly-defined order of the motifs and disorder of the noise together create a surprisingly tedious album.

In a way, it seems like Black Dice are at a crossroad between noise and pop. Many of their contemporaries have chosen the pop route, which Black Dice also seem to be going down. If so, then they themselves might want to take a lesson from their contemporaries and incorporate more a sense of melody in their music; their own advancement is blocked by their own unwillingness to conform. When they do so, the results are great. For Black Dice, conformity may just produce a more accessible and better record. It is only when they decide to choose neither noise nor pop that their music lags.

4

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image