It’s a little surreal that a “band” like Black Dice can release singles. When there actually is something of a structure in their music, it’s not overwhelmingly melodic. And when there is melody it’s extremely far from danceable or catchy. This isn’t your typical singles band, a la New Order or The Postal Service. Yet, somehow, they manage to captivate with their 7 and 12-inch releases, blowing the minds of critics and anyone artistically inclined. “Cone Toaster” got the nod from The New York Times, and their newest single, “Smiling Off,” may do a similar feat, as its skipping, galloping tribal beats, ghostly voices fading in and out, and strangely accessible melodic overtones prove for an enlightening listening experience, even if your hips aren’t aware of what’s going on up north. However, if you didn’t figure it out by now, this isn’t the type of single that’s likely to chart on Billboard, and if it does, then we’re living in a truly upside-down world for sure.
That said, Black Dice have always been a little on the “weird” side, going from pure noise to dense sonic soundscapes, experimentally playful avant garde and whatever the hell is going on on Broken Ear Record. It’s art, to be sure, but as for when it should be listened to? I’m not sure I can supply that sort of information. This is a truly oblique and nebulous world of sound that Black Dice is treading upon, and it gets more curious, yet strangely enjoyable with each listen.
Aside from the joyously strange “Smiling Off,” Broken Ear Record contains six more songs, equally confounding and aurally stimulating. There are shades of their previous record, Creature Comforts, in that soothing waves of guitar or synth are juxtaposed with clicking beats and unsettling random noises. “Heavy Manners” recalls Animal Collective in its dazed, bizarre folky setting. “Street Dude” uses guitars that sound oddly familiar to those of the Walkmen, but don’t expect anything sounding like “The Rat.” Instead, the song is a densely layered collage of moans, static and samples.
In some moments, like the all-too-brief “ABA,” Black Dice relieves us with some soothing, simple ambient tones, but it is fleeting. “Twins” uses rhythmically sampled feedback to create some nigh funk out of its odd melody. And final track “Motorcycle” creates a sort of freak-folk/dub mix with its wailing shouts and delay-treated guitar to quite satisfying ends.
Broken Ear Record may be more accessible than Creature Comforts and Beaches and Canyons, or it may not. With music this free and unencumbered by convention, anything goes. But even with a completely open range to spread out on, Black Dice wrangles up some truly interesting sounds, completing yet another sonically ecstatic and brutally beautiful record.
Animal Collective – Here Comes the Indian
Gang Gang Dance – God’s Money
Black Dice – Creature Comforts
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.