Over 15 years, Black Dice has been lumped in with just about every genre of leftfield music available. Various incarnations of the dance scene have been allied to their name, No Wave was pinned on but fell off, ambient was never going to make sense, and Punk didn’t fit the bill. Yet Black Dice’s peculiar indefinable sonic mix has nonetheless been massively influential and single-minded throughout their career. They’ve also managed to produce some of the most incredibly irritating music known to man. For every person that gets Black Dice, there must entire countries of dissenters (or there would be if that many people had heard of them).
The trio’s sixth album Mr Impossible finds Black Dice at their most accessible and most aggravating. In essence this is as close as Black Dice have come to making a full on, straight down the line dance album. There are elements at play here that hint at the popular mainstream, but the idea of Black Dice making that particular jump seems as unlikely as it would be hilarious.
This reworking of pop can be found on Mr Impossible right from the off with Pinball Wizard’s basic, catchy main riff. The drum pattern and bass figure combine to produce a down and dirty dancehall bounce. Jamming a squelching vocoder vocal over the top pulls everything back into comedy terrain, and just to make sure that things aren’t taken too seriously there’s a remarkably jaunty riff layered on top just in case. There’s something oddly pleasing about Black Dice’s desire to subvert a musical form and reduce it to an almost childlike state but the joke can, and does wear thin. The high pitched guitar line (presumably it’s a guitar) that graces Rodriguez drills its way into your ears and begs to be hated. Irritating in the extreme, it’s like being screamed at by Charley from the public information commercials constantly while the neighbour is hammering in his shed in time to a Latin radio broadcast.
There is a wilful, childish form of confrontation that informs much of Mr Impossible. At times it is an album that calls to mind the playful and disturbing tactics of Butthole Surfers, who themselves were quite adept at creating childlike soundscapes and peppering them with nonsensical vocals, swathes of unsettling tones, aural assault, infuriating instrumentation and earworm riffs. Both bands plough their own furrow and it is very much up to the listener whether to indulge in the silliness or have their hackles raised.
Buying into the cartoon nature of Mr Impossible pays some dividends but whether that’s enough to warrant the effort is another matter. The Jacker starts life as a lurching electro-stomp and dissolves into a curious funk work out that seems to be melting as it plays out. Pigs meanwhile is a glitch/noise collision that could soundtrack a turf war between Aphex Twin and Battles, if said turf was situated inside an aluminium tunnel. The elastic twang of Out Of Body Drifter is curiously enjoyable particularly when the beat nails everything to the floor allowing the malfunctioning robo vocals to go beyond the outer limits of humour. Shithouse Drifter could just as well be a random collection of beeps, swells and beats and achieve a similar effect. Brunswick Sludge and Spy Vs Spy hint at deconstructed hip hop (and in the case of the latter there’s a distinct whiff of barbequed Cannibal Ox) whist Carnitas is a batshit crazy symphony of synths, gurgling vocals and spongy tribal cries.
Does any of Mr Impossible make sense? Not particularly. Is it an enjoyable listen? Sometimes, but all too often Black Dice’s forays into the realm of the irritating make for an infuriating experience.