Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Black Dice’s second 7-inch on Gravity Records. Read Schnipper’s thoughts on it after the jump.
I decided, at least for a few minutes, Black Dice wasn’t music. I was listening to their Number 3 10-inch this weekend and what I heard was some wordless yelling, flailing drums, sharp feedback and something electronic and crunchy—it just could not be music. It was sounds but not music. But it wasn’t noise, either. Noise is a prescribed genre, somewhere where the anticipated fear of an oncoming static haze nullifies any of the hopeful shock, dulls it into pale neutrality. A bit more than a year and a half ago, apparently passionate, I wrote of a song on this record as being “forever entrancing.” I was talking about the repetition of the song that is the bulk of the a-side. The loose wilderness of the a-side, 11 30-second “songs,” is wholly sidestepped in favor of a gawky treatise on forcing past repetition's gratingness to get to the holistic plane. When I was a child, I watched a television show in which an expert of some sort described to a little girl with cancer how she could go inside her brain, find the level of her pain and turn down it’s dial, like moving the knob on a radio. It took focus to ripple past the layers, but she silenced what radiated within her. To me, Black Dice song's repetition gifted that similar high consciousness in a pain-free body, quickly and artificially mimicking a medicated and attuned mental focus. So then what’s the benefit of the a-side’s five minutes of outbursts?
Listening to Black Dice’s self-satisfied incoherence reminded me first of poetry, and then specifically of Jorie Graham. More than her words, what I always remember about Jorie Graham is that she is a fox. This is not to slight her, but her poetry is so fucking complicated it’s difficult to commit to memory. Truth is, I mostly remember her as the most impossible to understand poet whose work I struggled through in college. I loved her words but could never penetrate them to achieve a full comprehension. I pulled out the few poems of hers I could find in collections and flipped through them. They were less dense than I remember, though still certainly not lucid. Her writing makes everything feel like it is melting. She uses the word “pianissimo” to describe how light moves. That poem, "Fission,"—which sifts between the action in the film Lolita and the world outside in 1963, both specifically in the theater and outward (I think)—has many dashes and ends with “Don’t move, don’t/ wreck the shroud, don’t move—“ This is like that Black Dice song that fades into, and then ends with, five minutes of waves.
To be honest, looking at all of these messes, it’s impossible to really say Jorie Graham’s poetry is anything like Black Dice. I like the idea that it is. What could be a more wonderful parallel than absurd, ecstatic yelling songs held against thick poems about the body and all kinds of disintegrations? Mostly, neither of them are simple, though are immediately striking, and hopefully further reward comes with some kind of patience to unfurl what is dense. With Black Dice, I don’t know, maybe its visceral quality is both the heart and shell. Either way, there’s no goop inside.
The last Black Dice record I listened to when going through my personal catalog was this 7-inch, their second record. It’s much more coherent than the 10-inch, though less exhilarating and more whimpering. In the liner notes it reads “Black Dice also wishes to thank all of our friends and family members, as well as anyone who has helped us or come out to see us play. We also wish to extend a big fuck you to anyone who talked shit about us behind our backs. This is largely directed to the kid in Baltimore who kicked us off the V-Day show in Chapel Hill. We heard what you said to your little partner when you thought we couldn’t hear you.” I thought this was badass 11 years ago, but my friend now says its petty. These songs sound like that mix, curt and disinterested, purposefully allusive, as though they were conversations held loud enough for others to hear. Maybe the kid in Baltimore wanted them to know they weren’t as clever as they thought.
A couple days after I listened to Black Dice and read Jorie Graham, a friend passed on Bomb magazine with an interview with Bill Callahan by Jon Raymond. Raymond is a writer, so naturally asked a lot of questions about language. Callahan, happy to oblige, detailed his transposing of actual life situations into fictional narratives. The interview opens with Raymond asking Callahan about his lyric from “37 Pushups”: 37 Pushups/ In a winter-rate, seaside motel/ I feel like Travis Bickle/ I’m listening to Highway to Hell. Callahan says that lyric was written because he did all of those things, then explains how he came to be doing pushups in a winter-rate, seaside motel. But from there Callahan’s personal history diverges from his thematic concerns as he denies and denies religious upbringing or personal concern with the church. And, before they begin discussing Callahan’s Maryland early years and his childhood music taste, Raymond pushes with “one more question on writing.” “That image in ‘My Family,’” he asks, “of the mom in the bathroom smoking pot, her ass squeaking on the tub, and the dad in the study watching porn: Where did that come from?” Callahan just says, “Where do such things come from? I don’t know. You’re a writer, what sort of answer are you looking for here?”
What is fascinating about Bill Callahan being both interested and disinterested in talking about writing is that he volunteers a description of one of his albums as a collection of short stories and another as a novel. It’s not his invention, but comes from a trusted friend. “I don’t know what I’m going to write,” he says. “I’m like a blind sailor listening to the seagulls’ wings to know which way the wind is blowing.” What’s interesting is how you learn to hear, and then how you learn what a seagull is and then understand how it moves through the wind. That’s where you get if you dig.