While Roll The Dice’s 2010 self-titled debut was heavily reminiscent of John Carpenter’s pristine synthesizer-laden film scores as well as Emeralds’ komische-leaning works, 2011 finds Malcolm Pardon and Peder Mannerfelt exploring the more unpredictable and gritty side of analog equipment. By eschewing the clean and pure sound of their earlier work, In Dust gains a warmer and more human feel. In many ways the transformation parallels fellow Leaf Label musician Murcof’s increasingly experimental takes on cinematic electronics. Instead of continuing to wear influences on their sleeves, Roll The Dice have matured into a unique sound all their own with this latest album.
“Iron Bridge” leads off with the first hints of how Roll The Dice let the special qualities of analog equipment effect their productions even while presenting the most Carpenteresque track of the album. A granular veneer coats the sweeping pads and buries the otherwise pristine rhythmic and melodic elements. Instead of trying to capture a pure sound, it submerges it, reminding the ear of the experimental work from Type Records or Miasmah, where noise is allowed to run unchecked over pianos and other instruments. Here the noise builds and builds to a crescendo before stopping abruptly, like a plug was just pulled. Likewise cinematic and gritty, “Maelstrom” has a quieter pace that allows the melody to take center stage instead of the equipment.
Comprising a two-piece set of their own, “Dark Thirty” and “The Skull Is Built Into The Tool” have elements of pure sound design, with distorted synths moving in tandem with a glacially slow piano chords. “Dark Thirty” doesn’t fall into the same filmic language that other pieces do, even though it’s clearly telling a story with it’s odd song structure and Badalamenti-like pads. In a way, “The Skull Is Built Into The Tool” is an inverse of the previous track, with the piano chords higher on the scale and more upfront, acting less as a rhythm and more as melody. A curiously short and vague track called “Evolution” serves as a segue into the final third of In Dust, where Roll The Dice apparently throw wrenches into their songs on purpose to great effect. “The Suck” is as sludge-like as it sounds, with a deep and dark distorted synth anchoring the track at a plodding pace before evaporating in layers of reverb and delay after only two minutes, as if the machine just couldn’t move any slower or be any dirtier. “Cause And Effect” and “See You Monday” belie their strangeness with rigid rhythms and seemingly happy melodies. The former, though, is subverted by an ominously mounting sense of consequence, as its title alludes. And the consequence comes as the synth’s parameters overtake its notes in endlessly spiraling waves.
Coming second to last (before “See You Monday”), the 11-minute “Way Out” is perhaps the most interesting experiment here. The synthesizers sound half broken and warbling as it starts, but as the melody becomes more pronounced the signal becomes clearer. It’s like watching something being built, the pieces are unformed and rough on their own, but coming together into a whole makes them take on definition and purpose. The way in which Roll The Dice have taken what could have been folly, a process-oriented approach, and used it to weave together the pieces of songs is unlike “studio” focused albums. The equipment is treated like it has a life of its own and the producers are only allowing them to talk, whether it’s with half-formed voices, dusty voices, or intensely clear voices. Having both embraced the heritage of synthesizer music and dissected it, In Dust succeeds in displaying an emotive and lively mastery of its chosen tools.