I wasn’t watching the screen while I was listening to Eric Copeland’s Joke in the Hole on my work computer, and so when I glanced up and found that I was halfway through the album’ s second track, “Grapes” I was shocked: I thought I had already listened to four songs. Such dissociative trickery, like where two songs share more in common with each other than one song does with itself, has long been a tool of Copeland’s, but it’s never been quite so relentless. The Black Dice member has traded in a lot of the noxious intensity and no wave reflexes of his earlier solo output for something a little more a la mode. Joke in the Hole is Copeland’s most accessible – if accessible is even a word that can come into play here – piece of music to date, but it’s his least conservative effort in songcraft, focusing less on composition than it does on attention-grabbing moments.
The frenetic beats of “Bobby Strong” are easily distinguishable from the reggae under the wheel of a taxi cab sound of “Shoo Rah.” Each, however, is upfront and boiling; the songs on Joke in the Hole don’t require any buildup and they give you none. There is nothing you have to earn on this album, and while this could reduce it to a series of shallow moments, the real effect is that Copeland seems entirely agnostic about the aspects of each track. Nothing sounds like it’s just there to get you to the next part of a song, which makes for a more holistic listening experience.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t standout moments: “Cheap Treat” dissolves immediately from a wacky tube maneuver into a percussive movement that sounds like it could be played on piping. The second half of “Tinkerbell” sounds like a beautifully fucked up rendition of the Bob the Builder theme song. But Joke in the Hole gives very little for the listener to hold onto in anything other than an analytical sense. Sample based music is often not wrought with emotional connectivity, but Joke in the Hole’s distance sounds almost accidental. Perhaps it is Copeland’s ability to create such mesmerizingly weird sounds without it coming off as forced that we should truly be amazed by. Joke in the Hole is sleazy, funny, and fun but it’s an album that could have you questioning its point pretty quickly, too.