Black Dice Miles of Smiles EP

[DFA; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: noise, dance, house, urban, industrial, tribal
Others: Animal Collective, Excepter, Throbbing Gristle

In the transition from the Renaissance period to Baroque, there began a dramatic shift in music. Since music before 1600s was based typically on religious texts, the structure of music was implicit: the song ended when the text ended. In the Baroque period, however, instrumental music started to be taken seriously for the first time. This marked a problem for composers. If there were no texts for instrumental music, when did the music end? This is where paradigmatic musical structures were born and has since developed into a variety of flavors throughout the next few centuries.

But after all these years of organizing sound within prescribed structures, the more experimental music of the last century deconstructs the rigid structures leftover from previous movements, allowing the sounds themselves to dictate the form; either that, or they simply attempt to destroy the idea of form altogether. From process music to indeterminacy, John Cage to Phill Niblock, modern songwriters have been relentlessly tinkering with the traditional sensibilities of what structure is and how one goes about circumventing it.

Black Dice's latest release, Miles of Smiles, is a good example. Beginning with a smooth, watery sound which crescendos for nearly half of its total 13 minutes, the track suddenly cuts to a dry percussive sound -- a stark contrast to say the least. It's precisely this reliance on contrasting sound colors that makes the track so affective. Without it, the track would have no structure, aside from perhaps a linear one. And the fact that the two polar sounds eventually coalesce, along with a surprising marching band sample, underscores the structure's reliance on the sound colors to tell the musical narrative rather than a pre-determined structure.

Although the title track (originally written for The Poetry of Sex art exhibit in Tokyo) isn't too far removed from the captivating sounds of 2002's Beaches and Canyons, it certainly shows a progression for the band. Perhaps the most obvious is in its replacement of Hisham Bharoocha's dynamic drumming with a more cut  paste, musique-concrete-style execution, rendering a less "rock-oriented" effort. Contrastingly, subsequent track "Trip Dude Delay" is much closer to the sounds of Beaches and Canyons, as it was played live many times around that album's release. This song, too, pits opposing sound colors in a sonic deathmatch, telling a haunting tale through its music. (Since this is an older track, however, it's more a vestigial remain than an indicator of what the upcoming full-length might sound like.)

It's interesting to play these tracks right after a Bach fugue or Vivaldi concerto, as the influence of the styles that came from the next few centuries are either adapted or deconstructed in Black Dice's music. Although it can be counterproductive to historicize Black Dice's music in such a linear fashion, I find it extremely exciting that these young noise-mongers are willing to go out on such far-reaching limbs while stringing their influences with them. I mean, it was only a few years ago when they were best known for their violent live shows, screaming vocals, and destructive take on hardcore music. Obviously, repetition isn't their forte. With just two tracks at around 28-minutes in length, Black Dice have created yet another release stimulating on both a musical and intellectual level, showing traces of their past and hints of their future. Consequently, Miles of Smiles is a good indication that their forthcoming full-length, Creature Comforts, could very well be their most pronounced statement yet.

1. Miles of Smiles
2. Trip Dude Delay

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