Black Dice’s music is difficult to categorize. They were astoundingly oblique to begin with, but just when everyone agreed that “noise” was an appropriate description, they changed course, ditching pure distortion and feedback thrash for dense electronic textures and lushly looped epics, as heard on the critically acclaimed Beaches and Canyons. This new permutation brought even more difficulty in describing exactly what Black Dice were.
Two years have passed since Beaches, allowing even more time for the band/performance art collective to tweak their unclassifiable mixture even more. The nearly danceable “Cone Toaster” was hailed by The New York Times as the single of the year. And their new full-length album, Creature Comforts, goes in an entirely different direction, stripping away some of the density that made Beaches and Canyons so unique, instead opting for a more unpredictable, improvisational-sounding effect.
Creature Comforts is really the most appropriate name that Black Dice could have given the album. There’s a sense of playfulness and an element of mischief that was absent from prior releases. I even heard that the group amuses themselves by inserting aberrant sounds into otherwise serene tracks. That said, those who plan on delving into Creature Comforts should do so with an open mind and a sense of humor.
All precautions aside, Creature Comforts is a surprisingly accessible work of music. Though each “song” has little in the way of structure or catchiness, there are identifiable beats and pleasant melodies, though they’re often masked by bizarre tape loops or discordant feedback squeals. Brief tracks like “Live Loop” and “Cloud Pleaser” are simple, melodic segues that bridge the four longer songs on the album. “Treetops” starts with a bouncing beat that changes shape and modulation with each measure. Soon thereafter, a pretty guitar melody loops, albeit one interrupted with more of those wacky little squeals.
“Creature” couldn’t be a more fitting title, as the track sounds like a lunar landscape punctuated by extra-terrestrial beings popping their heads out of craters. I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but take a listen to this cosmic creation and it’ll all make sense.
The two best tracks here are “Skeleton” and “Night Flight.” The former is a fifteen minute journey of spaced-out sounds and changing melodies. It’s not so much one song as it is six without track separation. Every two minutes or so, the group changes course, throwing in a new surprise, tossing in a jarring noise during a pleasant break or building a gorgeous climax out of pure noise. The latter, however, closes the album much the opposite of how “Treetops” begins. Instead of allowing the distorted sounds and percussive clangs to fade into melody, more washes of pretty guitar are desecrated into ambient white noise.
It’s been said that Black Dice are more “artists” than musicians. This may be true, as evident by their total avoidance of song structure and penchant for performing in art galleries. But upon listening to Creature Comforts, it becomes clear that there’s more to Black Dice’s palette than distortion and tape loops. Somewhere underneath all the chaos, there’s a strong sense of melody that’s simple, accessible, and in a strange way, almost Zen-like.
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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.