Eric Copeland

Joke in the Hole

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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. When approaching his solo material, Copeland has gone through a similar trend of near-constant output that always takes on new forms. Released in 2008, Hermaphrodite drew closer to the drunkenly grimy textural experimentation of Copeland's work with Animal Collective singer Dave Portner in their side project Terrestrial Tones, but by the time a string of releases led to 2011's Waco Taco Combo, Copeland had moved completely into a more sample-heavy, beat-driven version of his weirdness. Joke in the Hole follows the trend started by that album and continued on 2012's comparatively stripped-down Limbo, offering up 11 tracks of something loosely resembling dance music, but seen through a lens far more warped and demented than most dance producers are brave or psychotic enough to deliver. Never one for too direct of an approach, Copeland stays away from standard drum programming or four-on-the-floor house beats, opting instead to work mostly from disjointed samples, layered infinitely in overlapping rhythms made of drums, percussion, and unrelated extraneous sounds. Guttural, almost medical sounds that bring to mind queasy bodily functions have long been a staple of Copeland's music, and tracks like "Bobby Strong" mesh polyrhythmic drum patterns with hyper-processed, somewhat nauseous vocal samples. There's a rubbery feel to the entire album, not quite as simple as sounding like a record playing on a broken turntable, but not too far from it either. Even in its straightest-shooting moments, like the disco-friendly "Cheap Treat," Copeland works in enough random rhythmic shifts and bubbling psychedelic undercurrents of sound to keep the track disorienting as it reaches its hypnotizing summit. The tracks with the most seasick and trash-scavenged beats provide brilliantly unhinged, post-Dilla-level experimentation that borders on falling apart but stays surprisingly under control. The noxious flanged drums and stumbling drunk bass synths of "Flushing Meats" sound like an especially funky spaceship crashing through the atmosphere and "Babes in the Woods" is built around a '60s pop sample but then distorted into a vat of acidic quacking beats, sounding like Panda Bear's Person Pitch re-imagined as an especially toxic bad trip. Clearly music that reaches in this many difficult directions at once won't be for most, but those with an affinity for underground dance music, minimal techno, and the rampant exploration of the American noise scene will be in some strange version of heaven listening to Joke in the Hole. Of Copeland's experiments with more traditional beat-making, it's easily the best, most accessible work and still manages to be more stunningly weird than the majority of everything else out there.

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