Listening to Black Dice has always been a daunting proposition. After years of primary catharsis therapy on early versions like Seed of the Sun and Cold hands, the Brooklyn-based trio of Aaron Warren and brothers Bjorn and Eric Copeland began to mellow with the years 2002 Beaches & Canyons. With this album, Black Dice morphed into something bigger and far stranger: an abstract rock band that tore apart the model of experimental rock. It was psychedelia that had roots in space rock, electronic music, underground dance clubs and the lo-fi ambient. They also summoned a strange New Age strain that carried a current of uproar, a subliminal threat to the peace they were trying to induce. The dominant aesthetic has become something like an avant-garde slapstick, with a constant tension between hypnotic and disruptive impulses.
Mod Prog Sic, Black Dice’s seventh album and the first since 2012 Mr. Impossible, continues their uncompromising approach. The “Bad Bet” opening reintroduces their predilection for mood swings and subversion of expectations several times per minute. It comes to life without subtlety, as if it has built up pressure in a laboratory vessel. After a sinister and prowling electronic music intro reminiscent of that of Cabaret Voltaire Red mecca, a lively techno beat of over 130 BPM launches the track into a disturbing tension of dance floor hedonism at 3 a.m. You don’t raise your hand to exult in front of the bangers at the Black Dice club; you use them to dig your skull in confusion. Like their best work, it feels both meticulous and reckless, grim and awkward.
More than two decades into their careers, Black Dice has eliminated some of the chaos and turmoil that once reigned in their music. The change highlights their brutal rhythms and breakthrough percussions. The sick, mocking guitar sound and jerky vocal sample that populates “Tuned Out” evokes the Butthole Surfers during their peak of live debauchery of the 1980s. “Tuned Out” creates a powerful momentum that reminds you as the guitarist / magician of electronics Eric Copeland has released three records on the club oriented label LIES. your hips what they had already done to your mind.
More than ever, Mod Prog Sic extends the insane sensibilities of the Copeland dance floor to their illogical ends. “Big Chip” presents the funky rhythms of the album, while “Jocko” approaches the wah-wah guitar of “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, then distorts it into a strafed Roland 303 acid riff, transforming the elements into a Rube Goldberg jitter machine. A twisty, energetic sort of techno, “Downward Arrow” is the cut most likely to rock the dance floors, with its whip beats and “yeah yeah yeah”. While nodding to pop music’s impulse to move bodies, Black Dice can’t help but undermine it with indecipherable vocals and arcade game chirps swirling around the beat.
Black Dice’s 2009 album Repo featured the phrase “Go where new experiences await” on its cover. A quarter of a century after the start of their career, and after a nine-year hiatus, this mantra still guides their work. As they revel in disorientation, Mod Prog Sic marks the trio’s most direct call to the pleasure center.
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