Black Dice was an integral part of New York City underground music in the late 90s and 2000s. Its members had come up through punk but took the spirit of open possibilities suggested by that music to do whatever the wanted to. Anything could be an instrument, any rhythmic idea could be made to work. Even ideas about how structure and patterns would emerge through a kind of sound collage cut-up technique that one might compare favorably with the work of Autechre and Aphex Twin. Key to the band’s creative approach and aesthetic was visual art concepts and its various album covers have been designed by members of the band in a style that hits you like graffiti by way of the Situationist International. The band’s methods of composition and expression proved influential to peers like Animal Collective, a band that on the surface makes an updated form of 90s indie pop but like that music truly experiments with the form and musical substance of the songwriting with forays into noise and sampling that enriched the palette of sounds and dynamics available in crafting songs.
In 2012 Black Dice released its then most recent album Mr. Impossible after which its members took time to pursue other projects, Eric Copeland releasing several solo works as well. With the pandemic thus far time seems to have stretched and compressed for most people and what may feel like a handful of years in the living it can stretch to several and in 2021 Black Dice released its latest record Mod Prog Sic. It is classic Black Dice as a free flowing parade of ideas, textures, rhythm and playful tone and signal processing like some futuristic hip-hop/EBM fusion psychedelic beatmaking. We recently had a chance to speak with longtime member Aaron Warren about his early musical days growing up in California and his formative years as an active member of the punk scene in Boulder and Denver in the 90s before ending up in NYC in pursuit of furthering his education and ending up in the city at a time of great creative ferment.
Black Dice performs at the Hi-Dive this Thursday, November 4, 2021, with cindygod and H-Lite (doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m., $15 presale, $20 day of show) but until then, please give our wide-ranging and in-depth interview (linked to Bandcamp below) with the insightful and engaging Aaron Warren a listen as it is another tale of the American underground music scene from the 1990s to the present.
The self-titled Club Soda album gets going into some intense, hyper dance club version of a science fiction synthwave vibes right away with “Goblin Bitch.” Given the possibilities of modern production it’s difficult to say how much of this was produced with older technology but it has the tonal aesthetics of something that would have been made with cheap synths, drum machines and either Acid or some old sequencer and a CasioTone 101. Except that Elijah Jarocki brings a different set of aesthetics to the music than someone would have in the late 90s making use of childhood electronic instruments to create strange pop songs. “Heartbreak City” sounds like a trap song made by Captain Ahab. Ghosts of Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It” haunt the edges of “Rice Forever” before it goes lo-fi Dirty South early EBM. “Goyle/Soda Alienation ” warps the flow of rhythm in a way that draws you in and provides sonic flashback of one of those beats Aphex Twin buried on the deep web for adventurous and resourceful fans to find. In the end, though, with “You Almost Took Me To The Edge,” Club Soda finishes the album with a triumphant, synthpop banger with vocoder to seal the impression of gloriously abused aesthetics and technology to engage in layered stylistic time traveling to make an album that could have been made 40 years ago or yesterday. Being able to exist in that zone of timelessness for the duration of the album is truly a gift. Listen to Club Soda on Bandcamp where you can also order a copy of the physical media.
“Screaming Banshees” by Oh Mr James is the lead single from the latter’s new EP Primer. At first one hears the urgent breakbeats, alien robotic voices and ambient swells and take into consideration that the project is called Oh Mr James and wonder if that James is Richard D. James of Aphex Twin fame operating under a different moniker as the artist is also from Cornwall and the song wouldn’t be out of step with Aphex Twin’s most recent compositions. Whether that’s true or not, this song doesn’t sound like an omen of death so much as multiple planes of musical ideas working over and with each other in sync. The electronic percussion parallels and reinforces the staccato yet bouncing bass progression sounding like a frantic teletype receiving portentous news. Multiple synths come together throughout the song as the carriers of the melody while background atmospherics are the connective tissue for the song which you come to realize is a bit like the musical model of the functioning of a fast moving animal that races across the earth and arrives at its destination and place of rest at song’s end. Whatever the purpose of the song it takes us on a journey of texture and emotion rich in detail and expertly executed polyrhythms that make it impossible to ignore yet non-invasive enough to stimulate your brain into creative realms of thought. Listen to “Screaming Banshee” on Soundcloud