“Pop” is not the best modifier for the Brooklyn noise outfit Black Dice, a three-piece that puts more stock in being abrasive and grating than crafting compositions from traditionally appealing sounds. Even so, the group’s third DFA release, Broken Ear Record, seems to embrace a certain sense of pop influence, albeit far beneath the manic din of sonic exploration for which the band is known.
• “Snarly Yow” is the closest this album comes to DFA mode. Propelled by a muffled bass snort playing call-and-response with sputtering mouse-like electronics, the song is most appealing due to its electro-rhythmic funkiness. But the formula is soon lost as a barrage of static and Wolf Eyes-style guitars parade through ruining any chance a deejay would have of spinning this record to positive response.
• Trapped inside the brief “Twins” is a Neptunes beat, squashed and struggling for air. Listen really hard. It’s there.
• A light synth line emerges late in the nearly ten-minute-long “Smiling Off” that’s so bittersweet it’s simultaneously the song’s most beautiful and most demonic moment.
• “Street Dude,” with its looped and manipulated vocals, hits like a trunk-rattler or a distorted take on Rick Rubin. Until it doesn’t. And then it does again. And then not so much.
What emerges as the foremost accessible characteristic of Broken Ear Record is the constant barrage of beats. Former drummer Hirsham Bharoocha left Black Dice prior to the release of 2004’s Creature Comforts, and the band has operated sans drummer ever since. The loss would have been a blow to, if nothing else, the Black Dice’s ability to ground its sonic compositions with a rhythmic anchor that, while just as off-the-wall as the rest of the group, could be referenced as the product of someone whose appendages worked according to, but not always in synch with, an internal metronome.
On Broken Ear Record, the percussion, when it’s not channeled through head-nodding electronic groove, is constructed with an amateurish touch that fills the tracks with a playful edge (think a minimalists take on Animal Collective). “Smiling Off” shifts multiple times to a percussive madhouse where nothing would lock in to place unless it were following the song’s herky-jerky almost-melody. “Motorcycle” putters by like it’s Drum Day in an elementary school music class, the hippie teacher holding it down with a steady bass-drum pulse.
Black Dice’s music is best served through repeated listen. It’s easy enough to take a quick dose, appreciate, and then never spin the disc again, but Broken Ear Record has enough gems buried within its otherwise obtuse structures that it’s worth the fiftieth go-round in search of every last sliver of nonsensical craziness layered amongst these pieces.