Earplug to the Underground: Black Dice, the Juan Maclean, and Mono

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Fringe music is an elusive beast. Whereas the points of slick tales of love and loss are usually pretty obvious, the undercurrents of the avant-garde are infinitely harder to navigate. Enter your intrepid guide: Earplug. In this bi-monthly series, Flavorwire’s sister publication — home to several experimental, indie, and techno experts — will separate the hidden gems from the record bin rejects. After the jump, reviews of Baltimore noiseniks Black Dice, a darker band of happy house from the Juan Maclean, and Mono‘s post-rock return.

Black Dice – Repo (Paw Tracks)It’s hard to talk about Black Dice without taking a walking tour of their past. After all, the fact that their current sound suggests a stoned Merzbow doing Krautrock would be less compelling without the history of extreme volume, people getting punched in the balls, and the blacklisting that’s accompanied such antics. After mellowing on Creature Comforts, hints of big beat on Broken Ear Record, and looped musique concrete on Load Blown, Repo seems relatively basic. It’s like the band is running Paid in Full through busted TV speakers and a grating Technicolor mystery box.

“Glazin” imitates a pop song, but it’s really a crackly sample of a pop song, sped up, blasted with a distorted thump, and littered with nonsensical babble. This sing-songy-ness is all over Repo, mimicking a jingle in your head, repeating it over and over all day until, at 5PM, it’s become a warped version of the original. Along this line, “Ultra Vomit Craze” starts with a cheap beatbox loop transformed into a melodic breakdown. Further afield, “Chicken Shit” is full-on bonkers Black Dice with divebombing washes of static and irregular noises that feel like “everything is happening and it is happening right now.” Bjorn Copeland’s strummy, circular guitar imprint appears throughout; he’s developed a twisted intuition of receding note clusters and pitch-shifted harmonies into something singular. “Vegetable” dips into frayed acoustic riffing (albeit sliced and diced) while “La Cucaracha” has the daisy-chained vibe of slim chords passed through umpteen delay pedals. All of this is to say that Repo is a great record, even if it invokes calming navel visage and not injury to sensitive body parts. [Marc Gilman]

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The Juan Maclean – The Future Will Come (DFA) House has always been the Juan MacLean’s calling card: in 2005, Less Than Human‘s club tunes came with a side of robot rock. With The Future Will Come, Maclean adds a dash of Human League to his rave-heavy oeuvre. The transition began with last year’s “Happy House,” the unstoppable dancehall single featuring a looped piano sample from Dubtribe Soundsystem’s “Do It Now” and a seriously heavy drumbeat. The 12-plus-minute track appears as the closer on The Future Will Come, capping a series of darker, though no less club-ready, cuts. Opener “The Simple Life” comes the closest to replicating the album’s overwhelming climax, featuring a steady synth buildup before going berserk. On “One Day,” Whang and MacLean duet over a string-laden chorus. The robot rock even makes a brief cameo on the vocoder-enhanced “A New Bot.” While the Juan has stepped up his game in the instrumental department, Nancy Whang might be the true reason for the album’s greatness: her vocals are the missing elements that pushes MacLean into the dance music big leagues. [Scott Tomford]Preview| Buy It

Mono – Hymn to the Immortal Wind (Temporary Residence) With Hymn to the Immortal Wind, Japanese post-rockers Mono bring new life to a genre that’s gone long unattended. Referencing ashes, burial, heaven, and light in song titles, the record expounds on the relationship between life and death, exploring the elements and the Earth’s part in the process. “Ashes in the Snow” starts off softly, combining tinkling bells with fuzzy feedback. In classic post-rock progression, soft piano expands into a lasting orchestration that thunders over its audience. “Burial at Sea,” meanwhile, uses the bass drum as a heartbeat for the shimmering strings, inducing an emotion every bit as mournful as the title indicates. During “Battle to Heaven,” the themes build and contract as elsewhere, but its war processional beat evokes imagery of a physical war, as opposed to one within. It is no mystery that Mono get a bit dramatic. At times Hymn gets a tad overzealous in its aim, but it can’t be denied that Mono do succeed in jolting post-rock back into action. [Rachel Brodsky] Preview| Buy It