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Black Dice - Load Blown

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Artist: Black Dice

Album: Load Blown

Label: Paw Tracks

Review date: Oct. 18, 2007

In contemporary French theorist Alain Badiou’s conception, an “event” is marked by an occurrence that cannot be expressed in the terms of the situation from which it arose. It is both the necessary development of its given situation and an irreparable and total break with that situation. An event can be artistic, scientific, political, or found in an amorous encounter.

Black Dice’s Beaches and Canyons could be seen as such an event for the band. After some time cutting their teeth playing ear-splitting and hyper-kinesthetic hardcore, the 2002 record broke with everything the band had done up to that point. Indeed, it seemed to break with the status quo period. By resisting the recourse to jazz, electro or ambiance that rock bands tend to try on when they are tired of rock, Black Dice’s revelation was they could say no to all of it. They found a space simultaneously outside of apparent aggression or contemplation, a space that resisted reference, a music as unsettling in its lack of the expected or familiar as in its foundation of clipped and mutilated sound shards. As is suggested by one of the song titles from that record, things would never be the same for the band.

We never listen to music in a vacuum of context. The paradox in such a seemingly referenceless music is that it's the band's roots in hardcore that lends Beaches and Canyons such a favorable and productive interpretive framework. It cleared such a vacuous referential space wherein the musical choices suggest not mere aesthetic selection, but a necessary outgrowth of an artistic process. It was a bewildering and dramatic progression but time has only proved that they meant it. They have stayed faithful to their event in the records that followed.

But the nature of an event is that it lies completely outside the normalized state of affairs. In continuing to beat down this path one wonders if this very commitment may begin to normalize The Otherness they had achieved. Which is not at all to say that the music has grown stale, but that their work is demonstrative more of fidelity to a moment of fissure and revelation than one of those moments itself. In this way the output resembles that of the painter Mark Rothko: the tonal palette differs but the fundamental aesthetic is unquestionably intact.

This said, Load Blown is stunning. It engulfs. While sacrificing little if anything to compositional templates, the record is remarkable listenable. Black Dice have always dealt in the currency of abrasion, and while that abrasion is as present here as ever, it is usually in service of one of a multitude of rhythmic strands that drive each piece. “Gore” is a visceral example.

This is the most rhythm-oriented record they have made, even more so than 2005’s pulsing Broken Ear Record. Melodies are spare but never atonal. Squall covers everything here, but almost always subordinates to pulse. In this way, Load Blown conjures house music. “Roll Up” especially channels the rhythmic subtly and intricacy of micro-house.

But because this sort of generic suggestion is so unproductive here, one has to resort to describing the sounds themselves. Yet, a sketch of the qualities of the tonal palate at work would resemble the full onomatopoetic silliness of an early Batman comic book. It’s no use. Every buzz, hum, and rip is a buzz, hum, or rip in an idiosyncratically Black Dice fashion. This quality reminds us of the circularity that is always latent in definition: every adjective should be qualified by the band’s aesthetic itself.

The band has never been better at what they do or sounded more comfortable and proficient in the execution of music that is still as esoteric as ever. The problem is that “comfort” and “proficiency” would seem incompatible with the rapturous event in which the band as we know it today was formed. Tension of one form or another is usually the ground note of noise music, but here enters a new tension: the conflict inherent when music that works in the terrain of the avant-garde gains a seeming level of ease of execution and naturalness, such that the conventions of listenabilty and stylistic familiarity at least seem too near for the ostensible intent of the music.

But Black Dice are not scaling back on The Otherness of their music, and it must be considered an accomplishment that the band could make a record that is so ostensibly out there seem so natural and palatable. Maybe no one is entitled to a second Copernican turn or catalyzing event, but it’s to the group’s credit that a listener might be so bold as to hope for one.

By Brandon Kreitler

Other Reviews of Black Dice

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Creature Comforts

Broken Ear Record


Mr. Impossible

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