Black Dice Load Blown

[Paw Tracks; 2007]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: unclassifiable, psych-noise extraterrestrial disco
Others: Fe-Mail, Terrestrial Tones, Nautical Almanac

Avid music connoisseurs sometimes describe certain bands rather condescendingly as a “gateway act.” As any serious follower of this or any art form can tell you, our tastes often mature and take on new identities, sometimes spurred almost single-handedly by something that reconfigures the synapses in our mind meant to identify the collections of noises we find pleasing. Black Dice are, in a way, a “noise” gateway act, at least for me; prior to seeing the band live in 2003 as a four-piece, with current Soft Circle-mastermind Hisham Bharoocha still in tow as drummer, the concept of pure sound or noise as an enjoyable listening experience was foreign to me. Seeing Black Dice punch blistering drones of white noise through the speakers at a mind-shattering volume (that’s how I saw it at the time, anyway) forced me to reconsider the concept of music, and to realize that it was possible for abstraction to exist in the often stringent paradigm of song.

The problem with many “gateway” bands is that their listeners may eventually ignore them once they’re able to appreciate and seek out more intense and progressive pastures. (I’ve seen this happen to lots of Radiohead fans, for instance.) Can a band that exists squarely between radical innovation and comfortable pastures still deliver the same dose of shock and wonderment to an increasingly demanding and far-gone listener? Black Dice, for one, seem to remain too bizarre for a good number of listeners, and on Load Blown, the otherworldly patchwork of completely demented sonic effervescence is proof that the group’s ever-increasing profile has done nothing to dull their penchant for boundary desecration. Now free from their rather odd tenure on the DFA label (which simultaneously angered legions of shallow Misshapes die-hards and festered animosity among a growing extreme-noise intelligentsia), Black Dice are now part of Paw Tracks, the label of close friends Animal Collective, where Load Blown finds a much more fitting camaraderie among other avant/not-avant acts like the Collective, Ariel Pink, and Excepter.

Anybody who isn’t completely waist-deep into ominous noise puritanism can tell you that Load Blown packs its many minutes with stacks of unique conceptions. Continuing the same ludicrous whimsy the trio has been perfecting since paring down to a trio in 2004, the reverberations of Load Blown manipulate analog electronics into space-age tribal anthems, with Saturn-bound soundscapes like “Toka Toka” and “Drool” eliciting a degree of innocence and humor not usually present in the often self-serious land of experimental music. Most of Load Blown draws from EPs released following 2005's better-with-age Broken Ear Record, and this uncustomary method of building an album lets the group grow more comfortable in their skin. The components of their final DFA single Manoman, three slabs of dense rhythmic processions, feel more at home alongside the Paw Tracks-approved “Roll Up” single, and despite the odd interims between recordings, all the tracks meld into the kind of straight-flowing demented serenity we’d hope for from a full-length. The unreleased songs, including the Frankenstein techno of “Kokomo” and the relentless smiling hysteria of “Scavenger,” match the tonal concerns of the singles' insane-asylum funk while expanding the arrangement of synth-and-sample layers to their extremes. And the placement of the tracks ensures that even the oldest jams, like “Gore,” never sound skeletal in comparison to the most recent creations.

As with any Black Dice material, it’s nearly impossible to put into words how their music actually sounds. If any music can appropriately be deemed unclassifiable, this is it: it’s too friendly and structured to be “noise” and much too abstruse and abnormal to be considered “pop.” The electronic beatscapes that make up this LSD circus exist on that line between the vanguard and the more traditional, a potential curse in that both the skittish and the pretentious are bound to cry foul. But those with an open mind on opposite ends of the musical spectrum will gain numerous valuable listens from Load Blown. Possibly the most confident and successful of this third phase of Black Dice, the pieces here make no claims to exist as anything but the welcoming and obtuse freaks of rhythms gone awry.

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