Bluefat Archive November 2007

Black Dice

This is how BLACK DICE rolls...

We've come into a time in contemporary culture when things that were previously not possible to do are now quite possible and even probable. That's a good thing, and you might say that the very existence of a "rock band" like Black Dice is a case in point.

This album of theirs called Load Blown on the eminently worthy Paw Tracks label is a thing of terrible, terrible beauty, an experimental-to-the-nature-born kind of thing that does, um, rock very heavily, albeit in a splintery-spastic way, seemingly determined to further deepen your attention-deficit problem with enough interruptive heavy-effected mind-changing midstream-midsong that the result can be aggravating, plainly put 行 though often as not, upon careful consideration, extraordinarily beautiful, strangely moving, even.

No, a writer doesn't say that Black Dice music is hard to describe 行 it is, though, and I'm sorry. But: You talk with these guys and you get the feeling that confusion's perfectly okay a response. In fact, it's the entire point, mainly.

Bjorn Copeland and his bro Eric Copeland formed a version of Black Dice in 1997 in Providence, R.I., along with original members Sebastian Blanck and Hisham Bharoocha; the latter two dropped out along the way, whereupon roommate Aaron Warren joined up. Initially a damn abrasive and loud and noisy thrashy beat combo, they've down through the years evolved a sound that recombines the extremest of electronic, funk, breakbeat and rock elements to produce a, well, thing whose greatest claim can be said to be its essential indefinability. It remains very fractured, and it still irritates, but one only needs to know that, deep down at least, it does indeed rock, if only inside your head.

Anyway, not to harp on it too much, but it still seems kind of a 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. A miracle too because, even by the band's own admission, they don't 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 行 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 man, it's buried way deep down. Aw hell, that's not really important, according to Bjorn.

"I think our whole thing was trying to make music that we hadn't really heard. 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 pop culture, in a way, because, after all, they're mashing up the same kind of pop crap-culture influences that everyone else has been ruined by.

"That's where people get their first exposure to expressive, abstract sounds, or electronic sounds 行 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."

Pop culture, then, is the big one for Black Dice. "We're avid crap-TV watchers, and listen to pop radio, and go to movies," says Bjorn, a bit 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 行 and mutating it. And especially with this record, it seems to be the one most similar to what's happening in other parts of mainstream music culture."

But you have to understand that Black Dice music is mainly just that: music. That is, if you consider that they seem to just be doing what comes naturally for them. I.e., it doesn't sound self-consciously arty. They do like to talk about the conceptual whys and wherefores 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, 1998), the untitled a.k.a. Printed Paper album on Vermin Scum or Ball/Peace in the Valley from 2001 were hairily confrontational bawls of aggro noise 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 行 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 行 it's a very open-ended process."

But how does he reply when someone 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. We're very much in our heads a rock band or a punk band, as far as the way we view doing it and the energy that we get off on, and the way we started touring and stuff like that.

"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 maybe weird in parts, like Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd or something like that. But I can't really believe that myself"

Load Blown is a record that's going to stand the test of time; it only grows deeper, more satisfyingly disturbing and head-spinningly lovely (yes, lovely) with repeated listens, and one hopes and prays that potential listeners will spare the time and effort to find that out for themselves.

The probable endurability of this music, in the end, has everything to do with the admirable fact that in making it, the Black Dice fellas didn't think twice about only doing something that they themselves would like to hear. And that is the key

Well, yes, but as for "commercial" concerns? "We try to go for it as much as we can allow ourselves to in good conscience," says Aaron. "The way we write our music, the way we conduct our band, the shows we'll play, the kind of records we're making 行 we've definitely grappled with whether more people are gonna be exposed to it as a result of a conscious attempt to be understandable. But it's almost never paid off. It's always been a compromise of our interests or values.

"In this day and age you can find out about something that you're interested in without too much trouble," he says. "The people who like us, seems like they've just stumbled upon us, somehow. It doesn't seem necessary to go to them in a concerted-effort kind of way."

"In a lot of ways," says Bjorn, "whether it leads to a wider audience蒳t seems retarded that once you've found something that works, then you move on to something else that works. But that's what we do."