Sunday, November 22, 2009

#38. Black Dice - Beaches and Canyons (DFA, 2002)

This is the turning point of Black Dice's career, the moment when their previous noise-rock ministrations gave way to the warped take on electronic pop that made up their more recent albums. It's also quite a bit better than the material on either side of it. Actually that's an understatement; Beaches and Canyons is so far above the rest of Black Dice's output that it's not even funny. It's the full maturation of their experimental/noise period, applying the foundations of the slightly too hesitant Cold Hands to a much more expansive template and adding in some more experimental touches (field recordings being especially prevalent on "Endless Happiness") while hinting towards their eventual transformation into a full on electronic act. It never seems to do both simultaneously, though "The Dream Is Down" definitely has elements of both, and really the only song here that gives a great indication of their later direction is opener "Seabird" but it does both so much better than the band have manged at any time prior or later.

Really the only issue I have with it is that "Seabird" just doesn't fit at all. The remaining four tracks all feel like they belong together and nowhere else, but "Seabird" sounds so completely out of place that it starts things off on a bit of a sour note. Of course it's still among the best of their more electronic moments, easily up there with the fleeting highs from their last three albums if not at the top of the pile itself, so it's not an issue of the "worst" song leading the album off, just the song that has the least to do with what makes the album so damned great.

Once you get past it though, the rest of the album is overwhelming. "Things Will Never Be the Same" is post-rock without the pleasing melody, in its place surges of noise and an intense as hell climax that still floors me even after hearing it so often. "The Dream Is Down" would have worked better as the introduction of Black Dice's electronic aspirations since those elements are folded into a slight retread of the last track. "Endless Happiness" is the one everyone knows thanks to its place on the first DFA compilation, and it's still as good a gateway into the album as you could ask for, containing neither the noisy intensity of "Things Will Never Be the Same" or the loopy electronics of "Seabird" yet feeling like the logical continuation of everything that came before. The crashing waves that end it go on a bit long, that would work better if it were the closer as opposed to the penultimate track, but before that the song earns its spot as the high point of the album. "Big Drop" isn't that though, instead ending the album on one of the most singularly intense climaxes of the decade.

Truth be told there are ways to make it work better...flipping "Big Drop" and "Endless Happiness" and folding "Seabird" into the latter's coda might make this a five star record and adding in "Peace in the Valley" and/or "Head Like a Door" from the Peace in the Valley EP wouldn't be a bad move either - imagine the latter as a build up to "Things Will Never Be the Same". As it is though Beaches and Canyons is a monster of an album, an overpowering yet inviting display of what can be done with post-rock if you don't feel like using guitars with any regularity.

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