We have apparently arrived at a time in contemporary culture when things that were previously not possible are now quite possible indeed, and you might say, if pushed, that the very existence of a “rock band” such as Black Dice is a case in point.
This new record of theirs called Load Blown on the Paw Tracks label is a thing of terrible beauty, an experimental beast that, well yes, does rock quite heavily, but does so in such a heavy-effected, interruptive, midsong mind-changing way that the result can be plainly aggravating. Often as not, however, and upon careful consideration, this shit is excruciatingly beautiful.
Bjorn Copeland and his bro Eric formed a version of Black Dice in 1997 in Providence, Rhode Island, along with original members Sebastian Blanck and Hisham Bharoocha; the latter two dropped out along the way, whereupon roommate and L.A. dude Aaron Warren joined up. Initially a merely abrasive, thrashy beat combo, they’ve through the years evolved a sound that recombines the extremest of electronic, funk, breakbeat and rock essentials to produce this thing whose grandest claim can be said to be its very indefinability. It remains fractured, and it still irritates, but retains said rocking quality, if only inside your head.
We all need to scratch our skulls at the modern miracle that stuff like this gets played and distributed at all. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when that wasn’t the case. And it is a miracle, too, because Black Dice do not make it easy for the casual listener.
“What took us a long time to realize,” says Bjorn, “is that a lot of it doesn’t make sense unless you hear it four or five times, and then it starts to become apparent that there’s songs — and they’re not like jams or collages.”
Given the band’s past association with the DFA on several releases, you can at least project a kind of DNA of dance music in Load Blown, but it’s buried way deep down. Anyway, that’s not really important, according to Bjorn.
“Our whole thing was trying to make music that we hadn’t really heard,” he says. “Because of our lack of technical chops, when we started it was impossible for us to emulate things even if we wanted to.”
He figures that Black Dice is just another aspect of mainstream culture, in a way, because, after all, they’re mashing up the same popular-poopoo influences that have ruined everybody else.
“That’s where people get their first exposure to expressive, abstract sounds, or electronic sounds — like in different commercials’ sound effects,” he says. “We don’t think of it as being different from any other type of music; when we’re working on stuff, for us it’s the same as working on ‘Louie Louie’ or something.”
“We’re avid crap-TV watchers, and listen to pop radio, and go to movies,” says Bjorn, proudly. “Aaron works in television, doing editing and things like that, so it’s been kinda nice to use those personal references that people are comfortable dealing with — and mutating it.” The upshot for the listener is, blessedly, that the results don’t sound self-consciously arty. Although B.D. do like to talk about the conceptual basis of their sound, if only to figure it out themselves.
“It’s almost like being able to play songs from a few different perspectives,” says Bjorn. “You could magnify way in on certain parts and then zoom really far out on other ones. All of a sudden, you’re not dealing with a round, full bass line, but instead, it’s like you’re more up-front with it, and it’s not like this low-end deeper effect, it’s totally different.”
Black Dice started out in a much more hardcore punk sort of way; earlier albums, such as Lambs Like Fruit (Gravity), the untitled (a.k.a. Printed Paper) album on Vermin Scum or Ball/Peace in the Valley, were hairy, noisily confrontational affairs whose very sound had a lot to do with the band’s then-limited access to equipment and for the most part (except for Eric) rudimentary instrumental chops. Those kinds of restrictions still play a big role in the development and performance of their material.
Says Bjorn, “We can’t really imitate stuff. And even now, some of the nice things that are happening are accidents. Using discarded material, discarded gear that only is capable of making a few sounds, or using effects that maybe had their heyday in the ’80s — all of a sudden, we begin to pick a melody out, whether it’s like hitting a bunch of pedals and sequencing two notes and whatever — it’s a very open-ended process.”
But how does he answer when some geek asks him to describe what kind of music his band plays?
“It depends on who’s asking,” he says, laughing. “Sometimes we’ll just say we’re a rock band. When we began playing in Providence with Lightning Bolt and shit like that, nobody would book any of those bands. So sometimes I’d say it sounds like Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd or something like that. But I can’t really believe that myself.”
Six-five, six-ace, five-two, four-trey: Black Dice roll on, and who knows what tomorrow may bring? They don’t, and that’s cool.
“In a lot of ways,” says Bjorn, “it seems retarded that once you’ve found something that works, then you move ?on to something else. But that’s what ?we do.”
Black Dice play with No Age and Mika Miko at the Echoplex, Tues., Nov. 13.