Initially, I didn’t know what to make of “Mr. Impossible”; the sixth studio album by Brooklyn experimentalists Black Dice, their first on Ribbon Music. In an attempt to sink my teeth into the release I hit play again and again in various environments, finally reaching the following conclusions: 1. Do not listen to “Mr. Impossible” the morning after the tequila fuelled night before. It will induce sickness. 2. “Mr Impossible” proves a suitable companion to a run along the abandoned railroad tracks of North London, but do not expect to emerge unscathed. 3. “Mr. Impossible” must – I repeat, must – be played on decent headphones / speakers at an unholy volume. In short: the exploratory nature of “Mr Impossible” invites a physical reaction.
Black Dice have always been sonic explorers. Over 15 years they have ventured into admirably disparate territories: from the thrash noise of their early 7”s to the (thoroughly) twisted pop of their Paw Tracks period, via some gloriously deafening ambient on Fat Cat/DFA. “Mr Impossible” is no exception. However, whilst on previous efforts you accompanied the band on the adventure – a tangible journey evoking a visceral response – here Black Dice present you with the sanitised documentation post-trip. For the listener, “Mr Impossible” often feels like an exercise in observation; row upon row of categorised sonic specimens that are undeniably interesting, but are emotionally unavailable.
Accordingly, the opening track – “Pinball Wizard” – sounds suitably otherworldly, like Martians marching to quantized Autechre and the distorted gurgles of their leader. Its driving beat might denote accessibility and a continuation of the relative pop revealed on “Repo”, but I would argue quite the opposite. Whilst on earlier releases, tension builds and you earn the beat alongside the band – here you are bombarded with constant, instant gratification. It’s cloying rather than insistent; pointedly claustrophobic and cocky in its resolve. Any satisfaction in arrival is lost if you bypass the journey.
There are, of course, some notable exceptions. Black Dice are masters of the hand-made aesthetic and when you hear the hands that made it “Mr Impossible” shines. “The Jacker” for example offers more complex internal rhythms then its predecessors, but the grit around the edges lends some grip. A distant Animal-Collective-holler underscores tumbling beats and a fervent melodic ascension. It’s irreverent, it’s dirty, it’s a track to lose yourself within.
Similarly, “Spy Vs Spy” is something of an anomaly on the album, yet stands out as an obvious highlight. Emerging in a cloud of trip-hop swagger – all stuttering samples and grainy warmth – it soon fractures through the Black Dice filter. Probed by inquisitive stabs, the track is dissected before our ears.
A large part of the appeal of Black Dice’s shambolic exploration is our physical engagement with the journey: a bone-shaking, gut-wrenching, nerve-shattering trail. The album’s peaks demand a somatic response, yet too much of “Mr Impossible” denies our engagement; making it a curiosity, rather than a shot to the heart.