When Genesis P-Orridge wrote that "THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER THEE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT" in 1982, he wasn't just whistling in all caps out of his then-intact urethra. Nor was the founder of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV expressing an original thought—the quote, with minor variations, originated with either George Santayana or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, depending on whom you ask. Far from contradicting himself, the wily recycler of William Burroughs and Hermann Nitsch knew damn well that deliberate theft is usually preferable to accidental repetition.
Consider Broken Ear Record, Black Dice's second album for high-profile Astralwerks distributee DFA. The Brooklyn trio's implicit MO—spiking various flavors of exotica with shards of naturalistic electronics and noise—looks good on paper and works perfectly well on "ABA." Less than a minute long and drumless, the track swerves strategically away from the rest of the album, as does the similarly percussion-free "Heavy Manners," a mutant psychedelic romp that sounds like an outtake from the Animal Collective's Here Comes the Indian.
It's when Black Dice have recourse to beats that they trip all over their pseudopods, offering an unintentional reprise of '80s underground cassette culture's most prominent foibles in the process. Often, the errant drums simply serve as a clunky reminder of the real White Man's Burden: an inordinate fascination with the underadorned downbeat that seems entirely out of line in a band clearly infatuated with non-European agendas. Sometimes, the band's percussive judgment fails altogether, as when they mar the perfectly serviceable neo–Crash Worship tub thump of "Motorcycle" with a succession of 32nd-note interjections that suggest they've just discovered the "roll" button on their Dr. Rhythm.
Every now and then, Black Dice just seem rushed. The beginning of the good-humored opener, "Snarly Yow," shows sufficient promise, with oscillating tuba and Venusian flugelhorn sputtering variations on Hugh Masekela's "Soul Makossa" over creepy-crawly clops-n-claps and jittery, para-ska synthetics. But the musical happy meal runs afoul of natural law when a four- on-the-floor kick drum lurches into the mix like a drunken uncle, lingering just long enough to spoil the party and make you wonder which the band is targeting—the dance floor or the halftime show? Despite its improbable length (8:14), the track's near-hypnotic tail peeps into earshot a little too late to undo the middle bit's damage—which, mysteriously, probably wouldn't be nearly as extensive were it not so hit and run.
Similar anomalies pop up all over the album; while the band's whorps and snoobles often arrive in the right places, they're rarely in optimum order. Broken Ear Record meanders so hard that listening to it is like taking your shih tzu for a walk and having it periodically turn into a hedgehog. Maybe they should have tried running the entire album backward, as Throbbing Gristle did with Second Annual Report back in '76. Or maybe they could have just finished it.
Still, Black Dice's half-done noodle soup goes down far easier than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's twice-baked indie poo pie, especially as the latter has already been through so many alimentary canals, it might as well be pure E. coli. The Brooklyn quintet's self-issued, self-titled debut album's half-eponymous title track, "Clap Your Hands!," is a gospel-tinged Residents/Talking Heads pastiche and seems innocuous enough—until "Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away" reveals that singer Alec Ounsworth is pretty much stuck in David Byrne mode, just as the rest of the band seems monomaniacal in its intention to simultaneously emulate the Velvet Underground and the Walkmen. Sheesh! No wonder rumors of Byrne sightings at the quintet's shows abound; the bouquet of his recycled shit hangs so heavily over most of the album that it probably calls to him like a long-lost child.
But Ounsworth is nobody's one-trick mule. His ferociously affected bleat on dorm-room icebreaker "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" (and indeed on much of the album) recalls both Robert Smith and Buffy Sainte-Marie—not in a particularly user-friendly way, either. "Once/The dogs have quit their barking," he caterwauls inexplicably at song's beginning, "Son/My neighbor said to me/Know the emptiness of talking blue/ The same old sheep." Clearly, as on the rest of the album, the lyrics of "Skin" serve mainly as a peg for the singer's Gitmo-grade torture tactics—the band's only distinguishing trait.
At the very least, Broken Ear Record is a more considerate effort than Clap Your Hands Say Duh (thanks, Jess Harvell). Unlike their fellow Brooklynites, Black Dice take the time to scrape the serial numbers off their influences, most of whom aren't from around there anyway. Plus, confusion notwithstanding, they're easier on the ear holes than CYHSY—and more useful. Given their label affiliation and the album's lurid cover, it's altogether likely that they'll serve as a gateway to further, deeper listening adventures for at least a few thrill-seeking kids in Keokuk and Boise. With a little luck, Clap Your Hands Say Yuck's future lies in the used bins, their stolen heels cooling a few letters ahead of Hootie.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah play Neumo's with M83, the National, Athlete, John Vanderslice, and Math and Physics Club at 6 p.m. Sat., Oct. 1; $20 adv. Black Dice play Chop Suey with Blood on the Wall and Spider and the Webbs at 8 p.m. Tues., Oct. 4; $10 adv. (all ages).