Review Summary: Instead of going to Hawaii or Jamaica, why not take a vacation to Beaches and Canyons instead? You will need no hallucinogens; these will be provided for you by the very sounds around you, laced with the mystical drug they call "art".
Music is sound's artistic medium. It is meant to evoke strong, memorable emotions. It traditionally does so by working with tunes: the manipulation and combination of relative pitches set onto a scale. What if all the pitches and melodies were gone, and the only elements remaining were timbres and textures working in loose rhythm like symbols and motifs to the theme of a novel? The prospect of enjoying noise may seem daunting, like a laborious, conscious, pensive attempt of coldly reading and interpreting sounds. But as with all music the mood will merely slip in. All you have to do is relax and listen and you will feel it.
Black Dice's debut LP is called Beaches and Canyons
because it creates vast environments of sound. They've created nothing like this before, and they have yet to create anything like this again. The EPs they have released before demonstrate a hardcore thrash band randomly incorporating electronics. But here on Beaches and Canyons
they have honed their sound to create cosmic psychedelic environments made not of intimidating noises but of gentle ones. In their later albums they toy with their electronics to create less ambitious but equally experimental works: nihilistic emotionless psychedelia ripe with glitches and samples and dance beats. But I digress.
"Seabird" opens with bleeps and broken machines. What is it? It could very well be the sound of R2-D2 making love, but these timbres can create endless arrays of other images. Robotic humming and electronic chirping is also apparent in the distance. Because we are primed with the title "Beaches and Canyons", we might imagine beaches and canyons. The actual images sounds create may differ from listener to listener but the mood of the music remains clear. The sounds begin tranquil and then erupt into tribal percussions.
All five tracks are based off of this calm-chaotic formula. With this formula Black Dice manage to compose a highly cinematic work. It plays on the emotion of suspense to help reach emotional peaks. Beaches and Canyons
may be noisy and devoid of any melody, but its structure matches that of a post-rock album.
Black Dice achieve the transitions from peace to chaos not only by thrilling explosions, but also by sweeping drones and swells. "Things Will Never Be the Same" drones unabashedly with crystalline textures, breaking machines and the cries of a creature, infant or human or animal. It swells into a colossal droning motion and then dies down. Then in "The Dream Is Going Down" the machine goes off into a frenetic paroxysm, abolishing the stillness. These hectic convulsions seem more out of spiritual transcendence than out of aggression: somehow within them the music manages to retain some sort of grace. Or am I just imagining things? The hallucinogen called Black Dice tends to do that a lot.
Each track is longer than the previous. "Endless Happiness" makes it to the fifteen-minute mark because in its last five minutes the only audible sound is the ocean. Recorded ocean waves. Found art. Does this seem worth skipping? No, these waves are a part of the experience: no one shall taint the sacred calm-chaotic commandment. Those waves are still beautiful, and help better evoke the imagery of beaches.
"Big Drop" is the definitive track, both the centerpiece and climax. It utilizes everything the album is meant to encompass. It starts immediately with the tribal drums and begins to drone: not serenely, but saturated with countless instruments, both organic and electronic. Then it all explodes into tribal yells. The sounds continue to drone and subsequently explode. There is a sense of grandeur, of perfection found and made incarnate, permeating through the drones and bursts. Then everything calms down to reach an emotional peak. Then it calms again and then an encore. It ends with a bang.
Broad, ambitious and beautiful, Beaches and Canyons
remains Black Dice's best work to date. It's a shame none of their other albums are as grand or as graceful as this.