Black Dice

Load Blown

(Paw Tracks; 2007)

By Joel Elliott | 21 November 2007

What happens when a noise band blows its load? There's so many possible ways to lampoon this band based on their new album's title alone, though I doubt the band is unaware of the preconceptions people will inevitably bring to this record. On the other hand, they did start out as a hardcore/noise band in the most visceral and anarchaic sense of the term; that Load Blown is for better or worse a dance record is hard to ignore, and if they can't stay true to their roots in any other way, they may as well retain hardcore's sense of self-deprecation, right?

I'm not going to say I miss the "old" Black Dice; I didn't even start listening to them until Beaches and Canyons (2002), which will forever remain their most career-altering album even if they end up signing to Mille Plateaux for their release. I remember going to see the band shortly after its release having never heard them and being told by friends that we probably should be fearing for our lives. Needless to say, their performance was quite surprising: rather than smashing guitars and screaming into mics they spent most of the time twiddling knobs and moaning as if they were less interested in physical assaulting the crowd as they were making them slightly uncomfortable.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating when I call Load Blown a "dance record"; on the surface, at least, the band is as harsh as they have been on their last couple records, and they've even shed most of the mystical space-rock ambience that characterized the softer moments of Beaches and Canyons (ambience sorely missed, in my opinion). It does sound a lot like they're trying to come as close as possible to dance music without abandoning the distorted analog effects, and in a way that's a fascinating precept: make an album that has the simple hooks and minimalist repetition of techno music while remaining far too fragmented in its production (in particular ignoring most of the low-end) to be remotely danceable. And yet it's also all the extraneous details that keep me from appreciating Load Blown despite its high quality: while Black Dice have been gradually moving towards this kind of music for awhile, even Broken Ear Record (2005) carried some massive internal tension within its individual tracks. Which is to say post-coital Black Dice sound awesome, but even with the tracks remaining mostly within single-length they don't tend to change enough; the band launches their initial attack and then ride that groove out to the end, occasionally adding other interesting elements, but primarily sticking to the structure of most experimental techno.

Which is too bad, because even if the band doesn't ever make another track like the rousing 15-minute epic "Endless Happiness" it would still be nice to hear them playing off riffs that sound completely at ends with each other. Load Blown is damaged as a whole, even despite its overwhelming internal coherence that makes for few surprises along the way: notably "Roll Up," which actually sounds dangerously close to micro-house: all static percussion and warped guitar that sounds like it's playing from a scratched vinyl, and "Scavenger," with its simple two-note guitar riff laid over intense polyrhythms and wordless imrpovised vocals. Like everything here, both tracks are dense and hypnotic, and everything seems to be in its right place. Perhaps that's the problem: despite how much a band may be willing to experiment and change (and Black Dice are one of the more extreme examples of this), they always succeed based on their initial strengths. Obviously one of these strengths is the ability to transgress genre boundaries, but it's also the ability to have a complete naive and spontaneous approach to their instruments, whether they be guitars/bass/drums or the most advanced electronic equipment. Perhaps Black Dice are just becoming too comfortable in their own skin.