Despite its violent birth as a bloody-knuckled noise outfit, Black Dice has spent the last decade being more playful than pulverizing. Members Eric Copeland, Bjorn Copeland, and Aaron Warren have produced a consistently rewarding catalog of loop-based, heavily modulated experimental music that’s grown more lush and layered as it’s evolved, at times cartoonish, at times abrasive, but with enough empty space and impish whimsy to allow points of entry. The group has closed a door and opened a window with its sixth full-length, Mr. Impossible. On the surface, it is by far the most immediately accessible album Black Dice has ever made. At the same time, that accessibility leaves little room for the band to maneuver—or even breathe.
As if announcing its newfound conventionality, Mr. Impossible opens with “Pinball Wizard,” a song that swipes its title from The Who and its distorted, deconstructed riff from Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” (that is, if Syd Barrett had been a post-apocalyptic technophile). Classic-rock references aside, its structure is airtight: The beats are relentless, the synths are robotic, and the sequences are left to hammer away mechanically. As recently as its last album, 2009’s sumptuous Repo, Black Dice has worked with organic cadences, sprawling atmosphere, and a broad sonic palette incorporating everything from jagged samples to gentle acoustic guitar. But as “Pinball Wizard” leads into tracks like the similarly machinelike “Rodriguez” and “The Jacker,” it seems as though most of the band’s garbled beauty has been squeezed from it.
That said, it’s replaced with an abundance of something Black Dice has rarely used: hooks. “Pigs” is a post-industrial nest of riffage. “Spy Vs. Spy” could actually (well, almost) make it onto a James Bond soundtrack. “Shithouse Drifter” even draws straightforward electronic melodies from the friendliest influence in Black Dice’s tacklebox: Kraftwerk. Granted, there’s still a scrambling-device methodology at play, only now it’s easy to imagine entirely standard club songs pumping away at the other end of the line. Even the album’s deployment of scratchy, catchy vocal loops—far more extensive than the band has ever attempted before—simultaneously humanizes and dehumanizes the songs. In that sense, Mr. Impossible accomplishes the improbable: being more accessible and more alienating at the same time.