While the Lightning Bolts, Melvins and Sunn 0)))’s of the world seek some sort of satori through devastating decibel levels, they don’t approach the face-vibrating, lower back support-providing sound waves that issued forth from the Black Dice’s amplifiers at Poisson Rouge last Friday.
It must be what manatees feel like when they lean against the ocean’s current, or fat people when they lean against other fat people in a packed subway car: this wasn’t the warm, fuzzy blanket of shoegaze guitars or the heart-grappling bass booms of straighter electronic dance as much as a sidelong attempt to communicate with other galaxies, and to carry an audience with them.
And while Sunn 0)))’s dense acreages of guitar drone probably come closest to Black Dice in engaging body as much as mind in performance, comparisons fall very short; there’s really not much to pull from the peripheries of music to explain what, in many, many other circumstances could only be described as wankery, doodling, bullshit, or how, more importantly, Black Dice skirts across that line to be the band that launched a thousand noise bands, and to continually mess with that border between structure and aimlessness until it’s hard to know which side of it you, as an impressionable listener, stand on yourself.
Don’t turn to the three or ten dudes who were dancing for an answer. One day, on Black Dice’s reunion tour, or in the decade when critics deem them later kings of rock ‘n’ roll, or after we’ve been thrown so many second generation acolytes that it takes no effort to “hear” what they’re “doing” because we’ve heard so many other attempts, those three to ten dudes doing the epileptic monkey dance wont feel so alone, and maybe they’ll tell their story. What they say wont make any sense, if you haven’t tried it yourself, of course, but in basements near Bard, Oberlin, RISD, the band has been preaching their self-invented language, and sweated their meaning out of a young generation, for, amazingly, a decade.
Black Dice, of course, don’t translate well to everyone, which is why their perseverance speaks volumes to their project. While others endeavor towards more coherent music, they’ve never compromised their mission to explore the limits of electronic boxes to create polyphony, texture, movement. You might look at Lightning Bolt as spirit brothers who share Providence as a birthing ground and a hunger for decibels, but their “noise” is for virtuosity’s sake. And of the other names that survived Brooklyn from nearly a decade ago, the divide is more obvious, between recent pitch perfect releases by TV on the Radio (that first EP had its own strange arhythmic, drum issues) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (so much for aping songs off Confusion is Sex), and those, like Oneida and Liars, who stayed dirty behind the ears with ongoing redefinitions of their sound.
In that context, Black Dice never really had friends, always the more precocious and simultaneously free and untethered of the bunch. Their upcoming seventh studio album, Repo, essentially a live album that is also in some ways their most accessibly beat-driven and least arrhythmic, speaks to this because it is not a progressive album. As contributor Nick Richardson argued in the last Wire, 2007’s Load Blown is technically a more “focused” collection of songs that doesn’t descend into one-minute “Urban Supermist” un-sense nor fall apart mid-track in the way that Repo does to gives us moments of new brilliance, nonesense and yet-unimagined coherency. It’s this utter resistance to formalism, in every notion we have of “Bands”, that keeps Black Dice floating in an alien periphery, sending test signals to those who will listen.