Eric Copeland - "Corn on the Cob" (Alien in a Garbage Dump)
Twelve years into their career, Black Dice are just as confusing as they were when they first emerged as a performance art post-hardcore unit, and Eric Copeland’s second solo outing is of a piece with his band’s recent wreckord, the sketchy Repo. For close listeners and distracted ones, too, little of Alien in a Garbage Dump is easy on the ears – the screwed-down vocal loops, sludgy beats, and warped samples don’t build into a full-on sugar high, preferring to lurch and slip into and out of phase. Annoyance seems to be the point when you’re dealing with this level of trash culture saturation, but it’s difficult to discern if the music validates the rote commentary. The bullshit detector went off for some of us with Repo, whose songs too often seemed to be little more than enactments of the contrasts found in the cover art.
To be sure, the music on this album is meticulous, and when Copeland ventures out from the mind-squint clusterfuck aesthetic, as on the bouncy gray interstitial “Scones And Bull,” conceptual laziness ceases to be an issue. Other times, it’s clear that the music is just cruising by in an aesthetic zone that’s already been staked out. Bummer that the album opens with “King Tits Womb,” which may as well have fallen off the Repo wagon: time-smeared alien vocals pan torpidly from channel to channel, trunk bass drifts after and hi-hats, flute, and synth samples get fussed into unstable little mounds.
Copeland’s own sleeve design here (his brother Bjorn handles those duties for the Dice) hints at Alien‘s threatening, monochromatic vibe, and the album is at its best when he brings the newsprint smears and photo grain to the forefront, like on the warped, wheezing melody of “Auto Dimmer.” “Al Anon” has a similar feel, but the flanger-drenched conclusion is a disappointing cop out, especially when its mushiness is compared with the shifting rhythmic and textural surfaces of what came before.
The poverty here isn’t unexpected. The lack of reasons to replay the album highlights that Black Dice’s real peers are Excepter, another band whose concept and execution appear flawless, but are frequently a chore to listen to. Black Dice has always been a band that you could hang a lot of meanings on, and it’s safe to assume that as long as they’re making music, they’ll come up with suggestive, compelling combinations of sounds and mind-bending changes of mood. If nothing else, an album like Alien in a Garbage Dump is interesting for its first spin, when the listener has the resources to make something of it. Past that, you’ll need to make an almost ritual commitment to teasing out the clashes that push the music forward. That’s the point, of course, and it’s nothing too daunting for your average Dice fan. It’s just that there’s something of a shell game going on here.