When Animal Collective named their eighth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, after a large outdoor venue in Maryland, it was probably only a matter of time before the ever-evolving experimental pop group actually booked a show there. And for those that have been paying attention for the past decade, it probably also shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that Brooklyn-by-way-of-Providence electro-noise weirdos Black Dice would likewise grace the stage that night, having progressed along a similar, if directionally different path as their early ’00s electro noise peers. And yet, at that moment, more than a few AC fans nonetheless live-tweeted their befuddlement, unable to process the pedal and sampler mayhem that stood before them.
Even for those well versed in Black Dice’s history, they’re a pretty confusing pop culture anomaly. Having begun life as a noise band, the group ultimately began to organize their sonic assault with the transcendent sounds of Beaches and Canyons and the ambient psychedelia of Creature Comforts, and ultimately into the tweaked but strangely accessible electronic fuckery of Repo. And with new album Mr. Impossible, the band’s first for Ribbon Music, the group has settled on an odd amalgam of plunderphonics, synth-funk, musique concrete, ambient and industrial, done in the most playful manner as can be expected.
As for what really can be expected of Black Dice, looking back will give you some idea of the debauchery on display throughout Mr. Impossible, but even so, making sense of it all will likely take more than a few listens. And even then, it might not, at least not fully. This is a band who, after all, willingly chose a percussive sound on “Outer Body Drifter” that resembles the sound of a CD skipping. They might be trolling or they might be ingenious, but they’re definitely operating from a completely different playbook than anyone else.
It’s nonetheless a pleasant surprise that, given Black Dice’s oddball history and penchant for the alienating, that as delightfully bizarre as Mr. Impossible, it’s equally bizarrely delightful. In Black Dice’s own twisted world, “Black Dice” (no relation to the Who song, as far as I can tell) is a dance party jam. It descends over gurgling bass and sputtering beats, with completely unintelligible robot vocals squealing between measures, and it somehow comes across as entirely enjoyable. All the more thrilling is the mechanized distortion stomp of “The Jacker,” which assembles something resembling a recognizable melody via completely abrasive and disorienting means, but succeeds all the same. “Pigs” is the gleaming standout of the bunch, buzzing like Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” chopped up and taped together with pieces of other punk songs and snippets of static-ridden radio frequencies. And on “Spy vs. Spy,” they even approach serenity, or whatever their version of that might be.
The thing that makes Black Dice fun is that there’s almost always melody, structure and some kind of discipline to their songs, they just make the listener work a little harder at finding that golden center beneath flashing, squelching and rattling mechanisms. Not everyone might enjoy that extra bit of effort, but the reward is there for those who seek it, and on Mr. Impossible, it’s that much closer to the surface.
Stream: Black Dice – “Pigs”
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.