Black Dice’s Broken Ear Record is the death knell of the neo-noise renaissance, but that might not be such a terrible thing. Noise peaked creatively in ’02 with Black Dice’s own masterpiece Beaches & Canyons, Wolf Eyes’ Slicer and Dread and the discovery of Lightning Bolt’s Ride the Skies. The genre peaked culturally last year when Wolf Eyes released Burned Mind on mega-indie label Sub Pop and subsequently appeared on the cover of Wire magazine. Predictably, this underground movement led more established bands to incorporate aspects of noise into their more straightforward work. When bands like Wilco brought noise to the Starbucks and NPR crowd, it irreparably damaged noise’s hipster credibility. Now Black Dice, a forerunner of the genre’s improbable surge in popularity, is going the way of Animal Collective and becoming gradually more pastoral and less and less apocalyptic.
Interestingly enough, all of this bodes well for Black Dice on Broken Ear Record. Rather than growing stagnant, the band has transformed from druggy Merzbow imitators to Autechre with aggression. Boredoms’ influence is also becoming more and more apparent, as demonstrated by the almost danceable groove that kicks off album opener “Snarly Yow.” The song is paired with “Smiling Off” at the outset of Broken Ear Record; at a combined 18 minutes, they represent the bulk of the album — both sonically and in length. Less face-melting and abrasive than prior efforts, both display Black Dice’s more efficient approach to destroying dorm room speakers. Here, less noise is more devastating.
Following those scaled back yet still visceral tracks, the album turns it down yet another notch with the starkly sparse “Heavy Manners.” It’s a make-it-or-break -it moment for the album, but Black Dice pulls off the change of pace infinitely better than they did with 2004’s inconsistent Creature Comforts. The band trudges on with two more hypnotic jams before ending the album with their most accessible song to date.
The album’s closer, “Motorcycle,” is perhaps a promising glimpse at the direction Black Dice will take in the future. The four-on-the-floor beat and the uncharacteristically optimistic guitar riff display the sort of varied sentiment that lesser noise bands never even attempt. But, the band wisely let the album ride out with a fractured rat-ta-tat of drums and bass, proving that while they can do subtle and happy, they’re still the best there is at rupturing eardrums.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars