The cover art to Black Dice‘s latest album looks beckons the listener to “go where new experiences await you.” It appears to be the defaced cover of a garage rock LP (supposedly by the Kingsmen although I have never seen the original even after much searching for it). The band members’ faces have been replaced with something resembling paint splatter or melted ice cream with thumbtacks to suggest eyes. The most startling thing about this, at least to me, is that the centermost member stands with hands folded as if awaiting the listener’s judgment. From all of the things I’ve been reading about Repo so far, it must be Black Dice’s most polarizing album. I stand squarely entrenched in the camp that says this might be one of the finest moments in its catalog to date, even if upon initial listens it seems to have severely pissed off a few fans.
The most noticeable difference between Repo and the previous two Black Dice albums, Broken Ear Record and Load Blown, would be a distinct move away from repetitive dance-oriented structures. The group has been through so many phases in its career to date whether with the brutal sonics of early material like Semen of the Sun and Cold Hands or the sprawling psychedelic epics of Beaches and Canyons it was kind of bizarre to see them approach formula with two back to back albums exploring similar territory. Repo sees Black Dice definitively scaling back the track times in favor of a series of wandering vignettes that manage to retain a very “pop” sense of melody despite the cut-n-paste collages of samples. I’m a little weary of tagging Repo as the band’s “pop album” if only becase it’s become a cliche with difficult music for critics to seek elements that might make it somewhat more palatable to a wider audience. Make no mistake about it, if you’ve never been a Black Dice fan before now Repo is not going to convert you. What it does instead is reward longtime listeners by tweaking certain aspects that have always been there such as trash pop, big beat, and dub reggae and allowing them to “surface.”
While at first some of REPO will undoubtedly seem oriented towards those with an attention deficit, it is in every sense of the word a “grower.” Unlikely yes, but even though some of the album’s pieces can come off hollow on first listen with time they become an integral part of an uncompromising whole. Certain songs stand out immediately such as “Glazin’,” which sounds like it could be a song by The Field which was thrown in a garbage dump and then only partially resurrected. “Ultra Vomit Craze” skronks like early Black Dice built upon the chassis of a Basement Jaxx beat. “Idiots Pasture” sounds like a William Basinski composition with a beat being sucked into a black hole. If anything this schizophrenic approach proves that Black Dice is capable of crafting an album that hangs well together even as its pieces are sit canyons apart.