In his book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks discusses a phenomenon sometimes called dystimbria. Sufferers of dystimbria are unable to hear musical notes and melodies in the way most people can. Unwitting victims of these symptoms find listening to any type of music analogous to, in Sacks’s words, “pots and pans being thrown around the kitchen.”
The members of Black Dice seem to be in an accelerated state of dystimbria. They’ve spent the best part of 10 years unleashing a furious battle between ugly and beautiful sounds that have been wrung from a pile of barely functioning equipment. I like to imagine Aaron Warren and brothers Eric and Bjorn Copeland hearing gentle symphonies as they play, blissfully unaware that they’re ripping and tearing at the human ear until it’s pummeled into dysfunction.
Repo, the band’s second album for Paw Tracks since leaving DFA, is a familiar collection of discordant samples, muffled vocals and barely discernible guitar lines. Their approach continues to lack the kind of standard sequencing commonly found in electronic music, causing Black Dice songs to purposely lack finesse. The band members never seem to be in control of the sounds that lay at their fingertips. In fact, it often feels like the sounds are controlling them. It’s easy to imagine the band being chased around the studio by a distended heap of FX pedals, wires and angry metal boxes.
Opener “Nite Cream” sets the standard, and is an approximate continuation of ideas captured on 2007’s Load Blown. Bulbous Beefheartian rhythms stammer into life and a batch of misshapen samples steadily fall and rise in the mix. They have a fascination with faltering, ploddy rhythms (see also: “Idiot’s Pasture” and “Lazy TV”) that are littered with repugnant belches, wheezes and fragments of found sounds. Repo is caked in a thick layer of crud, triggering an auditory experience not dissimilar to waking in a paralyzed hallucinogenic state from a deep bout of sleep paralysis.
Even when they play it light, on poppier tracks such as “Glazin” or “Earnings Plus Interest,” there’s a frivolity at work, a need to constantly tamper to provoke amusement or repulsion. “La Cucaracha” is driven by samples taken from an orgy, recalling the White Noise’s “My Game of Loving,” while the brief “Buddy” is full of anguished screams and warped dialogue. The tawdry and decaying textures at work in Repo would make a perfectly squalid soundtrack to Z-grade horror flicks such as Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock or Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case.
In his passages on dystimbria, Sacks discusses the case of a man for whom music simply resembled the sound of “a screeching car.” The concept of someone with no tangible experience of music is doubtless baffling to most people, but it’s a state of being that the members of Black Dice often seem to appropriate. They never sound like they’ve mastered an instrument, or thought about the conventions of chords, notes, sequencing and structure. Repo isn’t a great progression from previous Black Dice records. But their willfully amateurish approach, and a continued fascination with the coarse and the crude, make this another welcome addition to their woozy, dog-eared oeuvre.