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Black Dice - Creature Comforts

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Artist: Black Dice

Album: Creature Comforts

Label: DFA

Review date: Jul. 8, 2004

The wavy, Hawaiian-style slide guitar that greets listeners on Black Dice’s new full-length Creature Comforts evokes a sun-drenched holiday in the tropics – hallucinations of pina coladas, grass skirts, sticky suntan lotion, and the like. The title of the album, as well as names of individual tracks (“Island,” “Treetops,” etc.), suggests a certain conceptual unity, conjuring up fever dreams of idealized vacation vistas, of pleasures awaiting on distant shores. However, the men of Black Dice were never ones to provide mere easy-listening recreation for those adventurous enough to take them on. Their vision of summery comfort zones has a distinctly queasy flavor – unsurprising for a band that has always sought to put their audience at unease in one form or another.

Black Dice appear to be in their element on Creature Comforts, perhaps because they already know a thing or two about travel. After a few entries in the hardcore/noise-rock genre on the Troubleman Unlimited label, they quickly migrated to unexpected ambient territory, minimalist improv, and hazy psychedelia, much to the bewilderment of their nascent fan base. By the time Beaches and Canyons was released in 2002, it seemed clear that the band was venturing into wholly unknown lands; their music shook off any remnants of past influences and instead reveled in the novelty of its own alien creation.

Creature Comforts, while plenty unique in itself, isn’t actually as much of a departure (that feat would be nearly impossible to duplicate). Rather, it more or less picks up where Beaches and Canyons left off, allowing for more subtle changes in tone while distilling the Black Dice sound down to a considerably purer essence.

The biggest move on the release is towards a more electronic-based percussion style, which is no doubt related to the departure of drummer Hisham Bharoocha. Although the tribal drum stomp used so prominently on Beaches and Canyons does turn up on the magnificent “Creature,” the majority of the beats here must have emanated from a laptop. Those who have been following Black Dice closely will recognize this development from the much-lauded Cone Toaster 12”, released last year on DFA and also included on the electro-centric DFA Records Presents: Compilation #1 (where the band was sandwiched in between the likes of The Rapture and Juan MacLean). It’s unclear how much creative input DFA dance dudes James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy had on Creature Comforts, but one gets the feeling that their presence behind the boards was felt to a significant degree, at least more so than ever before.

Of course, Black Dice will not be lighting up the discothèques anytime soon, but the addition of sequenced grooves on tracks such as “Treetops” expands their musical palate even further away from the rock ‘n’ roll noise of their youth. For a band that puts a primer on expansion in all directions and in all forms, this can only be a good thing.

For all its mechanizations, Creature Comforts is mostly a very textural work, one that shifts in and out of its various ideas with the freedom of musique concrete. Much of the running time is dominated by wonderfully unnerving washes of electronic weirdness, concocted with the assistance of an impressive arsenal of high-tech gizmos. It’s the breezy guitar, however, looming in the background that serves as the true core of the album, providing an almost nostalgic counterpoint to all the stark electronic modernism. At times, this strategy brings to mind the improv-based post-rock ambience of groups like Tortoise (as unlikely as that sounds), but despite all of the atmospheric cool, the band is guided with a much more chaotic form of energy. The closest reference point to Creature Comforts, aside from Beaches and Canyons, may be the recent abstract noise work of Viennese electro-acoustic star Christian Fennesz, who also explored similar conceptual territory on his Endless Summer release from 2001.

Comparisons like these demonstrate how far Black Dice have come in a very short period of time. Creature Comforts is just one road stop on their perennial journey, and it provides ample evidence that even if they don’t know exactly where they’re going, getting there is half, if not all, the fun.

By Joel Penney

Other Reviews of Black Dice

Cone Toaster

Broken Ear Record

Load Blown


Mr. Impossible

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