Brooklyn bands get the lion’s share of local press, but stop your whining — lately, the borough’s output has been worth the spotlight. Emerging gracefully from the dust of electroclash and designer post-punk, oddballs like Animal Collective and Sufjan Stevens are twisting extravagant pop with diced slices of Beach Boys and Philip Glass. Such other darlings as Fiery Furnaces and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are less intriguing, with their respective convolutions of Patti Smith and Talking Heads, but the individualist moxie’s appreciated. Outside this critical glare, scene stalwarts are releasing their strongest or at least most ambitious collections, inching closer into the high beam. Wildly diverse, these contrarian players share genre-bending instincts, creating sonic interfusions with various flavors of screwy goulash.
Black Dice aren’t suffering from a lack of attention, but their beat’s been beefed up on Broken Ear Record. Geeks will muse about the trio’s hardcore Providence era, but that’s like judging Phil Collins against Genesis drumming, so why not discuss the beaded thong and rainbow on the cover? Besides, since their earliest skronk chords, Black Dice have drifted through hashish ambience and electro-tribalism into Big Top Pee-wee microhouse. Broken Ear‘s seven tracks continue the laser tag of last year’s Creature Comforts with a fuller sound: Atari 2600 upgraded to Nintendo? The set mixes cough-syrup guitar warps dashed with insecticide vibrato, space station Moonies, and a bit of hand-clapped blues. Standout mechanical raves “Snarly Yow” and “Smiling Off” are greased with distorted crunk. “Street Dude” buries Steve Reich beneath a storm of nuclear fission. And then, maybe hinting at future bifurcations, the sunny guitar noodle in “Motorcycle” apes Pinback until veering into Animal Collective whoops.
Place the Black Dice imps’ soundscrapes behind “Marquee Moon” and you’re approaching The Double. The ex-math-rock quartet’s Loose in the Air buffs the kitchen-sink pop deconstruction of 2004’s Palm Fronds without disregarding the feeling that the center won’t hold for one more hook. Vocalist-bassist David Greenhill momentarily intones like Smog’s Bill Callahan or Sea & Cake’s Sam Prekop with cerebral hints of Steve Malkmus, but like The Double in general, he’s a shape-shifter difficult to link to precursors. The potential hit “Idiocy” ricochets broke-ass electronics and noise solos beneath shimmered chops. “Up All Night” connects Metal Machine Music and IDM dots in the sky. And “In the Fog” pairs mournful balladry with Morton Feldman’s ambient ghosts. Catchy, achy, jubilant, Loose in the Air tightens with each microscopic listen. If they aren’t the city’s next big thing, I’ll buy Interpol a drink.
Double Leopards won’t be, though — dispensing with hooks, the foursome drop expansive improvisational drone at a ridiculous rate, taping their shows then dispatching the documentation. The notable recent Savage Summer Sun pairs two dark 35-minute-plus California live performances. Their heaviest excursions to date, the pieces are cavernous and craggy, like the mountains on the cover. The wall of sound’s industrial solidity isn’t dumb luck: Formed as a trio in the late ’90s, Double Leopards have refined their approach as a knob-turning feedback- and-delay factory since solidifying their current lineup in 2001. (The next D.L. transmission, a vinyl LP called Out of One, Through One, and to One, comes out in October.)
Masters of more straightforward sounds, Blood on the Wall are a rock trio fronted by Danzig/Harley Davidson–shirted brother-sister team Brad and Courtney Shanks. Their 2004 debut had ferocious chops, but Awesomer ups the ante via heavy slinks like “Stoner Jam” and the youth crew anthem “Hey, Hey.” People name-drop ’80s Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, but I’m more apt to picture Mudhoney jamming Daydream Nation. And yeah, when Courtney sings — moody, whispery, saying “baby” a lot — Kim Gordon appears in the room. Still, BOTW’s ecstatic beer swillery isn’t art rock.
Bed-Stuy’s the USA is a Monster are kinda arty, but mostly just eccentric: Picture Deerhoof or Oneida jamming with proggy new age hardcore kids in Jim Rose’s traveling show, then affix the scattershot time changes to a graffiti-positive mini-opera about Native American rights. Palefaces Tom Hohmann and Colin Langevin introduced the First Nations theme on 2003’s Tasheyana Compost but complicate the fight for sustainable existence on Wohaw. Often a schizo hoot, the vision quest deflates when a folkie detour hangs around too long. But then, when they project the 10-minute “God Is Red,” which one-ups Rage Against the Machine‘s Leonard Peltier anthem with hot-dog guitar solos and lyrics like peyote-fueled encyclopedia entries, all’s forgiven. Even despite the duo’s hit/miss ratio, dethroning this scene anomaly will be rough — keep those fingers crossed, though, for increasingly outlandish mongrels scratching manifestos in area practice spaces.
Double Leopards play the Mercury Lounge September 25.