It's still a stretch to talk about Black Dice as a formalist collective, but the Brooklyn band's migration from loose noise to something more structured counts as one of the most intriguing narratives in the art-rock underground. In the beginning, around the turn of 2000, Black Dice became notorious for playing antagonistic post-hardcore punk shows in dramatically darkened rooms. It was a badge of honor to have gotten hurt, or at least certifiably scared, during one of their lashing affairs, which rated as physical ordeals as much as aural experiences.
Then, starting with their 2002 DFA album Beaches and Canyons, Black Dice repositioned themselves as an unusually gritty kind of ambient band. They took to standing stock-still behind tables of sequencers and effects, with occasional drumming the only thing to count as even remotely gestural. The change to stand-around gear happened around the same time as that of their compatriots in Animal Collective, but Black Dice's shift signified something different: hermetic, internal systems-like ideas, as opposed to Animal Collective's more external, ecstatic musings.
Four albums and lots of heady grinding later, Repo draws on that same analytical zeal while also expanding a sound that's increasingly more realized and strategic. With its steady forward movement and messy pointillist pillars thrown up where concise beats might be, the opening "Nite Crème" marks Black Dice's slow, lurching move towards something like techno. It wouldn't tear up any Berlin warehouse, to be sure, but thinking about techno proves useful to Repo: Where lots of techno artists have moved away from austere formalism toward more liberated outbursts of noise (see Ricardo Villalobos, Audion, any producer who treats where beats fall as a means more than an end), Black Dice, as a band, have effectively moved in the opposite direction, toward a richly murky meeting ground somewhere in the middle.
Much of Repo makes good on that same sort of bottom-up drift toward cohesion, whether rhythmic or not. "Glazin" plays similar sleight-of-hand with the calm pulse of reggae: As a sampled guitar clip gets infested with all kinds of anxiously granulated textures and whirs, a warm bass-line starts to roll contentedly beneath it. In "Earnings Plus Interest", a sampled drum break that could be sourced from 1980s hip-hop or 90s big-beat starts out splashy but then turns stoic, as clutches of noise crash all around it.
Those patented Black Dice clutches of noise sound more specifically placed on Repo than they did on 2007's Load Blown, an album that seemed to prioritize textural smear more than simple rhythm or spacing. Repo is still abstract in a similar and smeary way, but it sounds like Black Dice have gotten a better handle on their gear-- as if, having learned how to make more and more different noises on more and more different machines, part of their project has turned more toward what exactly to do with those noises. In those terms, highlights like "La Cucaracha" and "Lazy TV"-- with coolly stuttering use of a delay-glitch as quasi-African guitar and lots of warped DJ Screw drama, respectively-- qualify as compositions, however decomposed they prove. *Pitchfork