Release Date: Aug 6, 2013
Record label: DFA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Experimental Rock, Noise-Rock
As one of the founding members of experimental N.Y.C. outfit Black Dice, Eric Copeland has a long history of ceaselessly shifting musical output. Morphing drastically every few years, Black Dice cycled through modes of early noisy hardcore, new agey electro-acoustic material, and more electronic noisiness as well, eventually ditching most of the traditional rock instruments altogether in favor of a fried, punishing post-techno sound made up mostly of electronics, modified and otherwise.
Eric Copeland has always created "difficult music for the masses." With the long-running Black Dice and four solo albums, Copeland regularly manages to smooth over sharp, discordant rhythms with waxy, warm-sounding beats. On Joke in the Hole, his latest full-length, the Brooklyn, NY laptopist has crafted the closest thing to an honest-to-goodness experimental DJ set. Allowing songs to uniformly flow into one other, Joke in the Hole's 11 instrumentals feel like they were written to serve the album as a whole.
It's strange to think that the malformed noise made by Black Dice was once released through EMI, albeit as part of a deal signed by their former label, DFA. That moment didn't last long, although the relationship has been somewhat rekindled here, as Eric Copeland returns to DFA for the first time since his other band released Broken Ear Record in 2005. The label's gone through vast changes in that time-- the dramatic curtain call of LCD Soundsystem, an acrimonious split with label co-founder Tim Goldsworthy-- but for Copeland things remain pretty much the same.
Close your eyes while watching an old Tom And Jerry cartoon and all the crashes, bangs and wallops could be the most avant-garde music Stockhausen never dreamt up. Similarly, close your eyes while listening to some of Eric Copeland's records, and all the thumps and drones seem to project the bright explosions of Hanna and Barbera's imaginations onto the back of your eyelids. Copeland is a member of Black Dice, a group whose malformed grooves have long skirted the fringes of the dance floor; the manically-sliced rhythms on Copeland's own solo efforts, like 2012's Limbo, had him edging ever closer.
After a majority of his solo albums have featured cover art consisting of black and white sketches and eerie collages, the cartoony, sexualized cover art for Eric Copeland’s Joke In The Hole is just the beginning of the LP’s flamboyant step in another direction. That said, anyone familiar with the Brooklynite’s main band won’t find that step jarring, but somewhat closer to the weirdo tropical club jams of Black Dice’s recent work. This latest solo album finds its grooves by layering charred found sound loops, beats, and vocal samples twisted until they’re nearly unrecognizable.
For his seventh solo album, Eric Copeland finds himself on New York’s DFA label – former home of his band, Black Dice. Samples, beats and general sonic clatter compete for space within what you might loosely call ‘experimental’ electronic music. As ever, he relies too much on accident to achieve interesting textures, flavours and rhythm, and only two tracks – ‘Grapes’ and ‘Cheap Treat’ – stand out as cohesive pieces.
Eric Copeland might well be one half of, er, ‘testing’ experimental act Black Dice, but it’s important to remember that the New Yorker also runs in the same circles as fellow Brooklynites Animal Collective, in many ways mastheads of a wholly different New York mindset at right angles to the Dice’s subterranean and art-damaged electronic no wave. Black Dice could be said to have pioneered the Williamsburg scene which AC would later rule, and genealogically AC’s brand of mutilated and techno-infused freak-folk owes a great deal to Black Dice’s noise, which like AC’s music tends to offer an oddly organic-feeling (or indeed, bucolic) take on power electronics. On the evidence of Copeland’s solo outings, however, the idea trading goes both ways.
Black Dice, though often tarred with the too-broadly used noise rock brush, have essentially defied classification since appearing around the turn of the century. Any followers will know that the abstract jams and collage dirges of early triumphs like Beaches & Canyons or Miles Of Smiles are now long gone, with the group's most recent Mr. Impossible confronting listeners with nine tracks of ostensibly danceable acid noise.
Eric Copeland is no stranger to the abstract. In fact, as a member of Black Dice, he’s part of a crew that revels in it. In the time since the band’s 2005 album for DFA, Broken Ear Record was released, a lot has changed in both a musical and fiscal sense for the label. And just as the label keeps chugging along, so does Copeland.