Black Dice
Black Dice Brooklyn’s Black Dice will release their third album for DFA Records, entitled Broken Ear Record (date). Their titles have always been telltale signs for their recording states of mind. Open space and seeking a surfer’s paradise informed the sprawling topography and ebb and tide of 2002’s breakout effort, Beaches and Canyons, while last year’s dense noise foliage of Creature Comforts was by turns animalistic, unpredictable. For Broken Ear Record, the title conjures numerous images and sensations. Think tinnitus (easy for neophytes and noise veterans alike that have caught their live performances); think punctured ear drums and the destabilized loss of balance that follows it; think sensory failure, shattering, and a new openness emergent from the shrapnel. Broken Ear Record is all of these conceits, and none of the above. “Oh, Broken Ear Record was just a phrase that one of us misheard,” sound-manipulator (and sometimes singer) Eric Copeland explains, “The title fit without standing for something.”

There was a time when Black Dice was known more for breaking things in their live shows (including themselves). Back when they were known as the Providence, Rhode Island post-hardcore noise band (they’ve been in New York six years now), aligned with both the local School of Design and friends/classmates like Lightning Bolt and Forcefield, those early shows (as sonically evinced on old Gravity, Vermin Scum, and Troubleman singles) have been elevated to the realm of lore. “It was scary, the shit that would happen at those early shows,” guitarist Bjorn Copeland says. “People got legitimately hurt. There’s this fucked air --this dark climate-- that’s always been around us, from the very start. [Seeing brother] Eric covered in blood at the end of a show, that colors things in a very specific way.”

Such confrontational carnage at their live gigs led Black Dice to pull back from the brink of destruction, and instead focus their energies on honing the unfettered noises that were growing in-between the songs in their sets. With the entrance of Aaron Warren into the band, Black Dice evolved, and began to play the transitional sounds instead of the songs themselves. Eschewing their past, they focused instead on pure sound in its most acerbic and head-messing state. They still strive to reach that state in their unofficial mantra, which jokingly goes: “That doesn’t sound fucked enough,” always seeking to go further beyond in their songs. Which is not to say that the band have forgotten about the salad days. In fact, Bjorn hears in Broken Ear Record “a rough rawness that is reminiscent of our old stuff.”

The year leading up to the creation of Broken Ear Record was a rough one for the band. They parted ways with their longtime drummer, Hisham Bharoocha, shortly before the release of Creature Comforts and soon after parted ways with their UK label, Fat Cat. Their tour with sonic brethren Animal Collective went well, until family deaths made the band call a halt to any further touring. It would seem that the ‘dark climate’ around them had not quite dispersed. Bjorn laughs at the notion, but still calls last year “just a string of shit that happened.”

To add further insult to injury, when they finally settled in to write the record, they realized that their practice space had no heater. “The whole time we were writing Broken Ear Record, we were wearing hats, scarves, gloves, parkas, with little space heaters wedged between our legs,” Bjorn recalls. “That’s why we wanted to go somewhere other than New York to record it. We wanted to reward ourselves after such a year.”

Given the opportunity to play in Australia’s What is Music? Festival and tour with groups like the Residents, Chicks on Speed, Sun City Girls’ Richard Bishop, and New York’s own Gang Gang Dance, the band hung around after the tour to record at a studio in Byron Bay. On the other side of the world, it gave the band the space necessary to thaw out the songs written in the dead chill of a New York winter. Eric explained: “We were coming off of hard times, a really unreachable last album, some hard feelings, a stern tour. We wanted to have a little bit more fun, try some new ideas out, even look back at old ones which we‘d never really done.”

Their first record as a trio, Broken Ear flowed quickly in the sun and nearby beach, being laid down and mixed in ten days. What will immediately strike listeners on first spin of the new record is the front and center presence of beats, something they hadn’t fully explored since their Timbaland and NY Times-approved “Cone Toaster” single from 2003. This reappraisal came in part from the difficulty of touring behind Creature Comforts, as Aaron describes: “It was really stressful making these structures, to where these willowy (beatless) sounds that had to hold bigger parts up.” Bjorn further expounds: “It got hard to be alienating people every single night. We wanted something that people could connect to more readily.” Now free of a drummer, Black Dice could re-imagine the types of beats they liked within the new, streamlined trio context and create them from scratch, with no drum machines present. They also revisited their early recklessness and abrasiveness, albeit in a more orchestrated context. Eric admits that the past is “still something we think about today, discussing those old shows.”

Still rooted in noise, the band was clearly entranced by what they heard around them. Bits of doo-wop, African rock, Hot 97, and Brazilian pop can be gleaned in the din, but they are just part of the whole. Aaron explains how their other disciplines in visual art and video editing affect their sound: “In Bjorn’s studio, his art is so immediate and hand’s on, whereas with my video work, everything is completely analyzed, super-zoomed in…kind of like radio jams and pop music. We just focus in on this specific texture, this feeling, and expand it for the whole song.”

Broken Ear Record pulls from every resource at hand: “Snarly Yow” and “Smiling Off” tangle together industrial stomps along the lines of Cabaret Voltaire or Autechre, while mindful of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound. The latter track is rubbery and catchy enough to warrant remixes from Vladislav Delay and the DFA itself. Vocals (nearly absent on Creature Comforts) also return. Sleepily mumbled on “Heavy Manners,” elsewhere the voices are densely layered, evoking primal chants and 10cc-esque choirs. Come “Twins” and “Motorcycle,” there is a twitching tribesman bounce and a bout of tinnitus, yet bumpin’ and grindin’ regardless. Concise, concentrated, and most crucially, cathartic, Broken Ear Record wastes not a note. Let it shatter ears and expectations alike.