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Black Dice - Cone Toaster

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Artist: Black Dice

Album: Cone Toaster

Label: DFA

Review date: Aug. 7, 2003

Nice Up the Dance

There’s a pleasant irony inherent to Black Dice’s surroundings, a context not entirely separate of the band’s sound. Circumstance and a certain psyche affinity for the chaos of concrete naturalism may have initially drawn the Providence outfit to New York, and eventually gave rise to last year’s masterful Beaches and Canyons. Meanwhile, proximity places the band in range of the perverse influence and absolute artifice of the city’s disco renaissance, not least of all through its association with the folks at DFA, which continues to temper dancefloor dynamics with sonic experimentation on its consistently engaging 12” releases. While further along the axis of ambient noise than anything else on the label, Dice’s “Cone Toaster” single falls closer to the purview of experimental electro than anyone had reason to expect, especially following the improv-oriented material of the Lost Valley/Head Like a Door 3”, and the murmuring chaos of the band’s collaborations with Wolf Eyes on American Tapes.

Still, as evidenced by live and recorded output, Black Dice is a gloriously schizophrenic phenomenon, and “Cone Toaster” is less a dramatic departure than a new, and possibly non-committal excursion. Absent is the collage-art prolifacy of previous vinyl offerings, replaced by the anonymous austerity of the traditional 12” format; the track itself is even backed by a remix, albeit of a fairly unconventional nature, courtesy of Boredoms’ guru Yamataka Eye. The appropriated aesthetic does well to complement the sounds therein, as Black Dice brings concision to the textures that have become its stock in trade, framed here by a more rhythmic orientation.

From the first elongated samples of the track’s opening sound pastiche, “Cone Toaster” imparts a more tactile effect in its deliberate sequencing, as well as an overall levity that, while present at certain moments on Beaches and Canyons, has never been quite so benign as here. In short, for neither better or worse, this is a more produced track than the traditional Dice fare, a more restrained mix of a composition the band has been evolving in its setlist for over a year. The opening bars are even suggestive of a sedentary, Kompakt-influenced electronic aesthetic, the disembodied percussive fragments the stuff of a Wolfgang Voigt ambient project. The track finds legs with the arrival of a throbbing drum machine, while the melodic material quickly claims the same cadence, as the band reigns in its surreal analog gestures in a formal industrial framework, similar to the friendlier offerings of the Wolf Eyes catalog, or even the meandering violence of a Mammal cut.

Things culminate with the introduction of more organic textures, dropping live percussion and guitar in the mix, an integrated sound that is increasingly the Black Dice strong suit, a textural ratio parallel to the rhythmic interface of noise and techno. Meanwhile, the instrumentation itself is far more recognizably organic, particularly in Bjorn Copeland’s shimmering guitar chords, previously indistinguishable from amped feedback, like a shifting sonic pangaea beneath the more skyward tendency of the band’s deployed synths. Overall, the effect works to drop the intimidation level on the track, a remnant of the outfit’s confrontational presence in the hardcore milieu, replaced here by a certain stoned, ethereal perfection. In an ambient context, “Cone Toaster” signals the further refinement of the band’s atmospheric sound, albeit at the expense of percussive intensity. In live versions of the track, Hisham Bharoocha’s drumming threatens the very foundation of the venue, brandishing a tribal syncopation that is somewhat muddied by production on the 12” variation.

For the b-side, Eye brings his trademark production density to one of the more pleasantly epilepsy-inducing moments in recent memory; this might even be IDM fare, were there not 70 sound sources sewn into the mix. Tackling the Beaches and Canyons track “Endless Happiness,” Eye renders the source material all but entirely unrecognizable, focusing his efforts on the chiming reverb of the original material, favoring the influence of dynamic over content. The remix swaps the pantheistic fervor of the Dice recording for toystore kitsch, growing from its deceptively simple onset to a playful measure of chaos. The synths form a maelstrom of insect intonation, nodding to the techniques of Eye’s Japanese improv scene, as well as continental electronic and, increasingly, hybrid psyche outfits like the Animal Collective and Dice itself. Meanwhile, Eye wields percussive fragments with such dexterity that the decontextualized snare, cymbal, and bass kicks assume an entirely surreal demeanor. Considering the possible influence of recent Boredoms’ recordings, particularly Super Are and Vision Creation Newsun, on the development of the Black Dice sound, wherein analog electronics take on a living presence, Eye’s total inversion of the technique is an interesting entry in the psyche dialog, defamiliarizing organic material in deliberate pursuit of disorientation. Never has the critical role of the remix producer been played with greater attention to detail.

To claim “Cone Toaster” as a dance track, let alone to posit the number as a watermark for Black Dice’s arrival in disco bedlam, would seem a rather premature statement. Even with audio violence absent from the present production, I’m not sure its premonition will ever entirely exit the band’s catalog, beat-centric as it may prove to be. If the two sides of this 12” share, or collaboratively declare, anything, it is the notion that rhythm and ether are hardly incongruous, with the latter bringing new dimensions to a tired dancefloor.

By Tom Roberts

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