BLACK DICE: BEACHES AND CANYONS (2002)
1) Seabird; 2) Things Will Never Be The Same; 3) The Dream Is Going Down; 4) Endless Happiness; 5) Big Drop.
From Kraftwerk to Aphex Twin to Autechre to the Animal Collective, my attitude towards electronic music of all kinds is relatively simple — give me a world that lies beyond my imagination, but feels real enough, and we'll be quite likely to share a connection. That is the way I like to review most of those electronica records, by trying to discriminate between those that live, breathe, and tell «wond'rous stories» from those that exist purely as meaningless agglomerations of sounds. However, for the most part, it is just my impressions — there is no telling if the artist in question truly intended this particular track to sound like «copulating refrigerators» or «nanites delousing their circuits».
With Black Dice, an experimental noise outfit from Brooklyn, run by brothers Bjorn and Eric Copeland, the situation is different. These guys actually started out as more of a hardcore outfit, gradually moving towards digital magic as their penchant for wildness and experimentation led them to worship at the altar of Merzbow and other similar acts. By the time they got around to recording their debut LP, with Aaron Warren on bass and Hisham Bharoocha on drums, they were completely past any «generic hardcore» stage imaginable — and yet, Beaches And Canyons does not at all sound like your average «electronic» album. Perhaps I would rather say that it sounds like your above-average experimental album that simply happened to be made with electronic tools lying around. This certainly makes it different from people like Richard D. James, who normally eat transistors for breakfast and sleep on motherboards.
Anyway, there is little doubt in my mind that, when Black Dice set out to make an album, they really have it in their minds to construct an alternate universe. Alternate enough, that is, to be fascinating and intriguing, but not enough to be completely incompatible with aural impressions that we have of ours. They present a set of «sonic-scapes», rhythmically and harmonically organized, but very natural sounding — diverse, meaningful, intentionally ugly when the time calls for it and quite pretty when it doesn't. In a way, they achieve here (at least, to my utmost satisfaction) the kind of effect that The Animal Collective were not able to achieve on their early records — probably because they were too obsessed with the «anything goes» aesthetics, whereas Black Dice, as chaotic as their output may seem at first, are, in fact, highly disciplined, and take full responsibility for every twist and turn.
The titles occasionally help. ʽSeabirdʼ starts out with a series of coos, caws, bleeps, and scuffles that do actually resemble a scattered, but patterned flock of alien seagulls and other species — gradually increasing in density until they all begin to fly round in dizzying circles. Later on, birds are joined by humans in a cute sort of tribal dance — whether it is supposed to signify a peaceful union between all species, or the primordial hunter's joy at the perspective of some roast seabird, I have no idea, but it all sounds fun, anyway.
From there on, the Copelands move to a series of lengthier, noisier suites: ʽThings Will Never Be The Sameʼ puts you inside the promised «canyons», with spirits playing games on your senses through winds, echoes, animal noises, baby cries (for some reason) and, finally, a grating, high tension storm where you seem to be caught up in a sparkling electric booth, afraid to move an inch for fear of being immediately electrocuted. ʽThe Dream Is Going Downʼ does sound like a sonic impersonation of an acute, inescapable nightmare — ten minutes of sirens, confusion, waves of white noise, looped schizo screaming, like a ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ for organized people (same hellish atmosphere but without the jarring unpredictable transitions from one piece of the collage to another). ʽEndless Happinessʼ breaks up the nightmare and gets you back to the canyons, with chimes and woodwinds providing the atmosphere — then replaced by no fewer than six minutes of waves breaking on the shore, as it happens on one of those «Nature Sounds» CDs. Finally, ʽBig Dropʼ brings back the sonic nightmare, although, frankly speaking, it feels somewhat redundant: I am happy enough with the 43 minutes of the first four tracks, and count this further sixteen-minute reprise as a special bonus for those who could not get enough.
This is certainly not «music» in the usual sense of the word, but neither is it «noise», produced out of a simple wish to experiment and to shock. Perhaps it could all be described as «simplistic» experimentation, unburdened by excessive complexity and intellectualization. There may be different ways to crack the code of Black Dice, but it is not a chess puzzle — it is quite easily accessible, and convertible to a fun experience, for, I believe, even the stupidest of us, provided we are at least capable of opening our minds a little bit. Rough around the edges, yes: some of the loops and cycles run a little longer than they should, and, on the whole, the Copelands seem like bright lads, able to easily come up with far more ideas than they have allocated for this record. But still a thumbs up all the way, even if, in retrospect, it now seems more like a teaser for even better things to come.
Check "Beaches & Canyons" (MP3) on Amazon