Eric Copeland – LimboPosted by Allen Huang
In the animal kingdom of music, there are fewer positions more enviable than the one of the “eccentric outsider.” Seemingly immune to criticism, these wacky geniuses are simply classified as “unclassifiable,” and left to their own devices. You cannot judge the work of an eccentric genius who does not play by the rules, much less understand them. And if you attempt to hold their work to any standard at all, a couple thousand cult followers will have some nasty things to say about that.
But this golden paradise of artistic freedom isn’t available to just anyone. You can’t simply don a shoe as a hat and then release an album of fart noises and hope to be taken seriously [actually there’s no proof of that, someone want to try it?]. When music is deliberately given an incongruous personality, when the product of art is simply a byproduct, one can’t help but bring the intangibles into the picture: the process, the pattern, the artist himself. And this is where ultimately the tapestry begins to fall apart.
Eric Copeland doesn’t seem to be performing music on this album as much as describing music. When he hears funk, he hears the idiosyncratic, transformative back beat on display in “Double Reverse Psychology.” Jams, in his musical thesaurus, are meant to antagonize and confuse, they’re meant to begin and end without warning. According to Limbo, Pop will not eat itself, pop will s*** itself.
On one hand, one must acknowledge the bravery (or is it whimsy) Copeland exhibits, throwing his listeners into a whirlwind of sound and texture without offering any context. In fact, he explicitly withholds all relativity from the listener; each track is a pile of ideas and production techniques set on “shuffle,” no fulcrums to be found. But by attempting to scare the listener in such manner, Copeland’s intentions remain closed to the public. He seems unwilling to expose his thought patters to the willing listeners, ultimately alienating anyone who tries to approach Limbo from an honest standpoint.
And that’s the difference between Copeland and other infamous avant-gardists like Don Van Vliet and Frank Zappa. With them, there was an honest effort to be inviting, to welcome the listener into their records, their schtick. Call it appearing on the Letterman show, or call it guest starring on an episode of the Monkees, but that philosophy of openness (and yes a little bit of narcissism) trickled down into the music. The fun is in peeling back the layers of obtuse sonics and finding the blues or the punk foundations underneath. There are puzzles with solutions, and we are invited to find the secret.
Limbo sounds murky, befuddled, ominous, and utterly contentious at times. No, it’s not revolutionary; this isn’t progressive by any means. But that was never a requirement for eccentricity. What separates Copeland’s latest solo effort from wacky milestones such as Trout Mask Replica and Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Limbo never feels like it has anything to reveal. It’s weirdness without concept, without context, without execution. Song titles like “Louie, Louie, Louie” and “Tarzan and the Dizzy Devils” hint at a fascination with the American garage rock wave, but the content smashes any attempt at connection, other than say an ironic mocking of the tropes of rock music in general.
Copeland’s main project, Black Dice, tread dangerously close to this territory. On record it’s pretty much the same. But live, Black Dice exhibit an earnest immediacy that commands attention and wins you to their side. Limbo is the work of an outsider who would rather go it alone, for better or for worse.