Black Dice

Mr. Impossible

Attempts to classify the dependably unclassifiable Black Dice usually take the form of improbable declarations, somewhat in a similar vein to classic pub standard “I mean, when you think about it, even Throbbing Gristle do pop music”. Which is to say, it all gets a bit fishy, a bit too much like critical overreaching. No theory quite adds up.

Initially, the experimentalists were cast as the millennial flame-bearers of no-wave punk, seemingly for the mere fact that they were New Yorkers, were vaguely antagonistic in their early incarnations and, like MARS or DNA et al, sounded nothing like anyone else on the planet – recalling the edgy end of avant garde on which no-wave was based: New York performance art, audiovisual art installations and the like. The logic being: uncharted territory equals punk rebellion. Close, but no banana.

Then came 2004’s Creature Comforts, labelled ‘ambient’ despite displaying none of the transportive properties that define ambient, most crucial of those being atmosphere – something Black Dice have conspicuously lacked over the course of their 15 years and 6 studio albums. Then at the centre of the “Well, theoretically speaking” rhetorical wank-storm was 2009’s Repo, which in some quarters was dubbed a techno album. It wasn’t techno. Unless by ‘techno’ you mean sleepwalking flatulence interspersed with random parps of synth and the sound of a dove crying, in reverse.

It’s usually at this point that the critic in question dispenses with catch-all genre ID’ing and resorts to the details of anatomy, or more specifically rhythm. Cue indulgent musings on forward momentum or lack thereof, notions of beatless rhythms, talk of repetitive figures, generative theories. Words like ‘onwardness’. Questions like ‘Can texture be a type of rhythm?’ Black Dice might be aligned to some sort of dance genre, mostly so the writer can assert the difference between BD and the fusty art-gallery avants – essentially the New Yorkers’ closest relatives, but apparently too noble a category for such a punk-funky-fresh electronica act. Unlike their previous albums Mr. Impossible marks the first time Black Dice have made it easy for those riffraff word-monkeys: this is their dance album, or to quote the PR, "a substance-fuelled basement party on Mars".

Rhythm is the starting point here. The move from loose percussion and scattergun effects to bounding tempos and ordered beats has worked like gangbusters for the act, sharpening their focus, providing much need cohesion through refinement, and in no uncertain terms reinvigorating the trio. For diehard fans, it could be viewed as a normalizing step backwards from sublime bizarreness to conventionalism. But for those who have long since tired of their rudderless noodling, Mr Impossible is a great bit of leftfield dance music.

‘Rodriguez’ marshals low-res synths and snow-crash textures into some kind of skiffling disco-punk, followed by ‘The Jacker’, its power-electronics manipulated to sound vaguely like a growling guitar, married to fourth world swing and live percussion. ‘Outer Body Drifter’ continues in the same vein, albeit in a darker and more sinister fashion, with a cold techno beat priming heavy funk synthwork and an evil voice amplifier; sounding for all the world like some war-dance between cold war monitoring devices and bionic men. Lead single ‘Pigs’, meanwhile, is their populist club banger, a noise-infected Battles-like stomper which builds to a frenzy of vocal glossolalia and doubled up beats: jittery art-dance at its most exciting.

As is often the case with this order of braindance fare, there’s a fixation with the physics of the mechanical: clicking, ticking clockwork, cyclical grinding. Only in Black Dice’s case the assembly line din is made up of typically unrepeatable sounds, many of them voice-like, giving the impression of computers talking back and forth. That’s still the closest thing Black Dice have to a career-unifying trait.

With a drop in tempo in the second half comes a batch of crawling headbusters of inspired absurdity. There’s strange stuff here even by the none-stranger Black Dice’s standards. But again it’s more purposeful and propulsive than that appearing on their previous albums. The hip-hop indebted ‘Spy v. Spy’ takes its cures from the LA beats scene, while ‘Shithouse Drifter’ sounds not unlike a shithouse drifter, or how you’d imagine one would sound, did such a creature exist. Then there’s squiggly post-geographic tropicalia, a la Gang Gang Dance: 90’s referencing, dub-balmy weirdness like ‘Carnitas’, populated by those mandatory reedy modulations, cheesy synths and a heady atmosphere of virtuality – all polygonal palm trees and dot-matrix seas.

Trailblazers whose blaze was beginning to trail, Mr Impossible finds Black Dice burning brighter and faster than ever before. Long may the rhythms continue.

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