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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Black Dice: Creature Comforts


1) Cloud Pleaser; 2) Treetops; 3) Island; 4) Creature; 5) Live Loop; 6) Skeleton; 7) Schwip Schwap; 8) Night Flight.

In our era of «one-album bands», there was no obligation whatsoever for Black Dice to top their initial success — but they still went ahead and did exactly that with Creature Comforts, which is, in my opinion, their absolute peak and a major highlight of the decade's non-dancefloor-oriented electronic music in general. Not only that, it is one of the most aurally perfect «Psycho-Tarzan» albums ever recorded... so to speak.

Several of the composition titles are indicative of the atmospherics, with references to «islands», «clouds», «treetops», and «creatures» lurking in and out of the landscape. The difference from the usual procedure is that they are genuinely indicative. Where Beaches And Canyons was still sort of all over the place, and some of it worked explicitly on placing you, the listener, on a beach or inside a canyon, and some of it just made bizarre noises, Creature Comforts, from start to finish almost without exceptions, works on transporting you to a mystery island and stranding you there for about 45 minutes (which, by the way, is quite a sparing amount of time: electronic artists tend to make full advantage of the average CD length, as it gives them the opportunity to explore all the nuances of potential of their favorite loops, bells, and whistles — but Black Dice, starting with their second album, have decided to spare our time, and must be thanked for that).

Of course, part of that magic comes from the fact that the band, with its «real instruments» past, does not limit itself to computers and synthesizers, but uses them in conjunction with guitars, real (if treated) percussion, and other stuff. Thus, the brief opener ʽCloud Pleaserʼ is seemingly based on a simple, see-sawing, «kiddie-avantgarde» guitar loop, and all the cute little electronic appari­tions cluster around it, popping in and out of the «clouds». Chain-looped jangly drone is also at the heart of ʽTreetopsʼ, although it is not as much in the listener's face as are all the back-and-forth rockings of the treetops in question — along with flocks of birds, howls of monkeys, chirps and squeeks of small rodents in the branches, and, as strange as it may seem, sounds of crying babies, or maybe that is just another sonic illusion caused by the interference of all the different waves up there in the air.

The album really hits its stride with ʽCreatureʼ, all suspense and intrigue that never really comes to the surface — imagine yourself traveling on a narrow jungle path from one end of the forest to the other, hearing all the animal noises from all sides but never once actually witnessing the source. Bellowing, cackling, grunting, snorting, hissing, rustling, cooing, guffawing, (insert your own favorite sound-imitating verb from Roget here), all of it sequenced in a manner that does not exactly make the track «musical», but gives it a certain logic of development that makes it inte­resting to follow. My only grudge is that ʽCreatureʼ is hardly the right title — there is no singular «creature» to be represented here, more like a miriad of creatures, freshly released from Noah's Arc or something into the forest and singing their happy songs of freedom. Or is that supposed to be a ʽ(Waiting For) Creatureʼ kind of idea?

The 15-minute-long ʽSkeletonʼ is the only track to slightly overstay its welcome: somewhere in the middle, the band hits upon a «wave upon wave of relaxing psychojangle» groove that they be­come so happy about, they let it roll and roll and roll for what seems like ages, even though it hardly has anything to do with any skeletons (some of the other effects do sound like the rattle of bones, though). However, they more than make up for this with ʽNight Flightʼ — an acoustically stunning six-minute closer where, indeed, all sorts of things, from small birds and bats to large birds and bats to spirits, ghosts, and pink elephants charging through the air one or several at a time, before they all come plodding and crashing down at the end. In the meantime, we also realize that we have made a full 24-hour circle, from the greeting dawn of ʽCloud Pleaserʼ to the busy aerial life of the nighttime in the final round.

So, once again, be it «music» or «sonic theater», Creature Comforts is an utter delight for the senses, provided you let your imagination run as wild as the sound does, instead of boringly wal­lowing around in modernistic abstractions — which is why, despite the comparative lack of hype, I actively prefer it to most of Autechre's «aural suprematism». Another clear thumbs up, heavily recommended (especially if you are an active zoo-goer or Animal Planet watcher).

Check "Creature Comforts" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Creature Comforts" (MP3) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Hey George

    First, I like to thank you so much for introducing me to loads of great music through your old website. Yours was the first rock review website I obsessively read.

    It's been about 5-6 years since I last read one of your reviews. It's so cool that you love Creature Comforts as much as I do! We're not alone on this album, even though most people have yet to catch up.

    I have my own website (well, not my own, but a profile on Listology, nonetheless it does the trick) and I'd be glad if you see it. Creature Comforts is in my top 25 albums list! :