At which point does music become noise? Can noise ever fully qualify as music? Black Dice’s quest to prove the two can happily co-exist reaches its most consistently satisfying stages yet on ‘Repo’. For this is music at its most refreshingly uncategorisable. The New York trio’s roots in the noisier regions of experimental rock are by now little more than a dim and distant dot in the rear-view mirror.
In many ways, the band’s journey from a “proper” band wielding instruments into a technology-heavy, beats and dub bass-orientated outfit resembles that of buddies and sometime label mates Animal Collective (Black Dice records are released through AC-affiliated Paw Tracks imprint). Only whereas Baltimore’ finest have become gradually more listener-friendly, without losing any of their innovative edge, Black Dice have headed deeper into the murkiest depths of total sonic annihilation, producing sounds that are so alien, so indescribably strange they’re near-indecipherable on first encounter, but become more and more compelling and coherent with repeated exposure.
Whereas in the past Black Dice’s steely intent to push the boundaries has at times come across as almost wilfully off-putting, a relentless volley of nervously skittering beats and white noise catering for those not afraid of a king size challenge, ‘Repo’ sculpts something genuinely enjoyable and endlessly hypnotic from the same uncompromisingly experimental sources.
Not that the album’s exactly fit to be filed under easy listening. ‘Repo’ is best described as abstract electronica, pitched at a point approximately halfway between the ear-bleeding skronk of Wolf Eyes and their noise-aggro brethren and the underwater dub backdrops to the choral wonder of Panda Bear’s ‘Person Pitch’, although it has little in common with either point of reference. Describing individual tracks is equally futile, such is the near-exhausting onslaught of ideas, many of which make only fleeting appearances before disappearing into a bubbling cauldron of joyous noise. Taking in elements of electro, dub, hip hop, noise, Afrobeat-indebted polyrhythm and, in a barely noticeable starring role, the outer reaches of experimental rock, the album’s best enjoyed as a whole, a cleansing dip into an area where genres and sale charts have lost all relevance.
There are moments here that resemble fairly conventional dance tracks playing backwards, with blasts of feedback and muted screaming adding to the general sense of cacophony. At other times, the proceedings emit an image of an aural jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit, with seemingly conflicting, off-kilter elements forced to co-inhabit the same space. There are also some reassuringly straightforward bits, such as the colossal groove monumental closing track ‘Gag Shack’s built on. Sounds confusing? It is, initially. Give ‘Repo’ a while to simmer, though, and it all soon makes hypnotic, thoroughly captivating sense.