While the sonic crush of Brooklyn noise trio Black Dice consistently aims for the gloomiest part of the brain, its principal vocalist, Eric Copeland, aimed for the body in his 2012 solo effort, Limbo. Made up of plundered VHS tape breaks stitched together by an amateur seamstress, it was rough around the edges, and the songs lurched in their color and arrangement. Limbo was unquestionably tied to dance-floor rhythms in a way only foreshadowed by the kick-drum pipe bombs on Black Dice’s Mr. Impossible. Copeland’s first solo effort for DFA, Joke In The Hole, largely carries on that tradition: whimsical beat-driven cuts, indebted more to Copeland’s ADD crate-digging than to the noise conventions that populate both his Black Dice material and his earliest solo work.
“Rokzi” kicks off the collection with a drum loop caught in a slipstream between plinking keys and pitched-up vocals—a couple of overlapping locked grooves that render even the very first moments disorienting in their complex rhythmic interactions. What follows is no less dizzying. The track shifts on a dime to slow, moody guitar samples and straining, muddled pseudo-rapping that infringes on dub’s doomy haze through a gritty chopped-and-screwed mindset. These sorts of stylistic shifts populate each of Joke In The Hole’s 11 tracks. Just as one of its jackhammer rhythms worms its way into the inner ear, Copeland pulls the rug out, often in favor of its direct antithesis. On this record(as on Limbo), Copeland is fixated far more on matching beats than on properly sewing together genres.
Joke In The Hole is a gloriously messy approximation of happy hardcore, but the glee with which he makes his stylistic departures makes the methodology worth it. “Flushing Meats” is carousel hip-hop in the wooziest permutation imaginable—street-smart jump cuts interspersed with slide-whistle electronics and twinkling keys. It’s a far cry from even the most immediate Black Dice tracks (anything off the aforementioned Mr. Impossible is a good starting point there), but even in its relative insouciance it’s no more accessible. The second-half suite that spans from “Cheap Treat” to “A Little Tit” features several of the more insistent grooves on the record, something that provides only slight doorways to the xylophone and steel-drum splatter paint that coats the tracks.
To date, Copeland’s solo efforts have made sense only through the lens of his day job in Black Dice. 2007’s Hermaphrodite and 2008’s Alien In A Garbage Dump were only dance-inflected in the most abstract sense of the term. With last year’s Limbo, he made a move toward obtuse yet lighthearted dance-floor exercises. Joke In The Hole is the culmination of both sides of Copeland’s intentions. It’s endearing and off-putting in equal measure, the year’s strangest collection of bangers from the only mind twisted enough to produce it.