From its inception, Black Dice has been undergoing something akin to reverse entropy. Beginning with unbounded slabs of free-range dissonance, the band has slowly been imposing order to its chaos, producing a string of albums which have gradually arced toward pop. Fittingly, Mr. Impossible, the group’s sixth full length and first on Ribbon Music, is the most structured release yet. The nine tracks presented here find the trio pushing the loops, electronic gurgles, and modulated shouts that defined their earlier work into straightforward, almost linear, compositions. The result is album of beats and grooves, alternately plodding and engaging, punctuated by the occasional bursts of Black Dice’s signature sonic playfulness.
The new format is evident right from the start. The opener “Pinball Wizard” is dominated by a steady rhythm of drum machine kicks and staccato square-wave blasts. As the track drives ahead, a shifting mix of electric noodling squiggles by on top—though even when a break beat comes in on the song’s second half, the mix never approaches anything close to chaos. Similarly, “Shithouse Drifter” is built off a solid loop of 8-bit chirps accompanied by an ambling electronic melody. Given the band’s history, these songs are surprisingly organized, both temporally and sonically. The tracks move in a linear fashion, slowly building by adding or subtracting one element at a time. Even more surprising is the clear distinction between rhythm and lead—where tracks on Creature Comforts and Repo allowed sounds to mingle and tumble over one another, these tracks offer a clear hierarchy where melody and rhythm interact much like they would in a conventional pop song.
Sometimes the format works. The first single, “Pigs,” starts with Lightning Bolt-esque propulsive drumming that’s eventually joined harsh synth squelches and halting, shouted vocals. The layers ebb and flow, slouching toward a verse-chorus-verse structure that builds to a satisfyingly raucous conclusion. “The Jacker” and “Rodriguez” use similar tricks to equally effective ends—the later even sports a cowbell-clocking drum and synth breakdown that could easily slip into an LCD Soundsystem record. Other times the strategy is not as successful. With its 4/4 beat and modulated hand claps “Outer Body Drifter” is less immediately gripping. Though with it’s wonky synth lines and nonsensical shouted refrain of “dance helicopter dance,” the whole track can be heard as a bizarre cartoon parody of your typical DFA dance-punk booty-shaker.
The album’s sound really reaches its apex when the band tones down the mania in favor creating spacy grooves.“Carnitas,” the only truly long cut on the album, sprawls across eight sublime minutes filled with colorful keyboard bubbling and airy synth flanges ambling over a nimble drum-machine beat. The measured pacing and cohesive tone betray a debt to Kraftwerk‘s “Tour de France” and “Trans Europe Express.” It’s not bad company for a band that’s also dedicated to pushing sonic boundaries. “Spy vs. Spy” makes for another unexpected comparison, this time to producers like Burial. The jogging, textured decay and chopped vocal particles that make up the track’s main loop have a undeniable, nod-inducing groove—it’s only a matter of time until this song finds it’s way onto some up-and-coming MC’s mixtape.
Fans looking for the ramshackle, kitchen-sink approach to audio bricolage that defined previous efforts may leave disappointed. Though parceled out through these compositions there are still moments of aural turmoil—even upon multiple listens some tracks remain filled with unexpected auditory flourishes. Mr. Impossible is still dotted with loads of aural experimentation, it’s just stitched more carefully into the arrangements. It’s a sound the band has hinted at before—most notably with the nearly club-ready remixes included on the “Smiling Off” single—so it’s not entirely a surprise. What remains to be seen is which aspects get emphasized in a live setting. Will Black Dice still fill their shows with energetic improvisation, or is this album our introduction to a slick dance-oriented party band?