lack Dice’s move from the ocean-jungle drum wrangling of Beaches and Canyons to the electro-burp machinations of Broken Ear Record has been their most documented shift, but the most exciting move they made in the past five years was to stop acting like a rock band and start acting like a dance group. Of course, Black Dice aren’t a dance group (nor are they a rock band) but the white-label 12”s, the steady stream of remixes, and finally, the full-lengths that compile the singles all mimic the workings of an efficient, track-oriented dance/electronic act. It’s a good look—Black Dice have always been more exciting in a “their next vinyl could be colossally great”-sort of way than in a “Top 20 Albums”-sort of way. Load Blown, the band’s fourth proper full-length, embraces this trend by collecting recent singles “Manoman/Gore/Toka Toka” and “Roll Up/Drool” and fleshing out the remaining run-time with fresh compositions.
“Compositions” is key, too: because of their cover art, their jammy, collaborative habits, the company they keep—pick one—Black Dice have acquired a reputation of zany, neon art-bats, haphazardly encountering and recording sounds. They haven’t received enough credit for their meticulous sequencing and sampling, their patience and, importantly, their choices. Positing Black Dice as actual decision-makers does add some intrigue to the questions—important questions —you ask yourself while listening to Load Blown: “Did they sample a revving car engine at the beginning of “Manoman” or did they find a gizmo that makes that noise?” and “Is “Kokomo” supposed to sound like a brontosaurus or a pterodactyl?”
Load Blown succeeds in integrating these whelp-sounds into tiny, holistic worlds, worlds that exist for three or five minutes and then vanish. Take the tinny, fevered repetitions of “Drool” or the industrial psychedelia of “Cowboy Soundcheck,” which circle and threaten and then disperse. “Scavenger” features the beginning of a chord progression repeatedly dashed to pieces by rocky percussion. The same gulping bass sequencer inhabits “Kokomo” and “Toka Toka,” but the former finds it in factory-inspired busyness and the latter encounters it on a light-stepping jog. “Manoman”’s elliptical vocal puzzle remains stilted and unsexy, but it reminds of the decisive, alien movements of sea creatures (Man o’ War, yes, but besides).
In fact, much of Load Blown mimics those movements: tiny decisions that are random and unexplainable by themselves—darting left instead of right, turning this knob instead of that knob—but in sum have a weird, natural order to them. Of course, this is the same set of tones and constructions that Stewart Voegtlin recently deemed “KAOSS Pad-damaged bullshit.” He’s right, to an extent; Load Blown, like any album whose sounds have unknown origins, is exhausting. This isn’t to pass judgment on the band’s tonal choices, just to point out that “Q-Tron or Micro-Korg?” is a thankless game to play as a listener. And unlike Throbbing Gristle or maybe Excepter, these foreign noises and textures provide no emotional signage; I’m sure Black Dice intends listeners to feel something during “Gore” or “Roll Up”—anger, nerves, excitement—but they offer no handlebars. And like any Black Dice album, several tracks are squeezed until foul dishwater drips out: “Bananas,” and “Bottom Feeder” are as ill-formed and rotten as anything the band has produced.
Fortunately, the album’s compartmentalization allows these miscues to be ignored. Load Blown builds its tracks in jagged snowglobes: dangerous, self-contained worlds of sound that accumulate and then expire, allowing a small set of not-dissimilar noises to function in unique ways. Best of all, Load Blown adds to the idea that Black Dice, like any great dance/electronic act, are only as exciting as their next single, only as relevant as their next remix. Load Blown does more than enough to keep “very” and “awfully,” respectively, in the mix.