Eric Copeland – Dumb It Down

Posted: 5 October 2020 in Albums
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Christopher Nosnibor

Eric Copeland, operating outside of his main musical outlet of Black Dice, continues his understates solo career with the discreet release of Dumb it Down. It’s almost as if he’s on a campaign of anti-promotion, and would prefer his work to spread by word of mouth and osmosis. There’s a perverse logic in that, which corresponds with his unusual career trajectory: bursting onto the scene as an act with decidedly hardcore leanings, Black Dice released a slew of singles and Eps between 1998 and 2000 that charted their evolution towards abrasive experimental noise, before an unexpected swerve saw their debut album in 2002 present expansive pieces of an infinitely more chilled-out nature.

Having subsequently influenced – and crossed over with – Animal Collective who, they put in contact with the Fat Cat Records label back in 2003, Black Dice may have been somewhat eclipsed and Copeland’s solo work existing some way below the radar.

Dumb it Down isn’t exactly a hugely commercial proposition, to be fair: the title track is the first on the album and while it got a sort of bouncy feel to it, with hints of early Wire, Suicide, Stooges, and Cabaret Voltaire tossed together and blended with a psychedelic twist, most of it’s buried in so much murk: it’s fuzzy, bassy, and sounds like a demo recorded on a condenser mic. But then, it’s cool, because it also sounds like a lot of the stuff on the Pebbles compilation series. So yes, it sounds more like a lost gem than a contemporary work, and this is true of the album as a whole.

Across the album’s ten tracks, all of which are so swampy that they sound as if they’ve been recoded from underwater, or from the next room. There are some viable sabs of electro-funk, with hints of Taking Heads and dashes of 80s robotix all churned in together, but it seems to have been recorded and mixed to deliberately undermine any commercial potential. In the past, commenting on the likes of The fall, Pavement, and Silver Jews among others, I’ve suggested that lo-fi production or not, you can’t keep a good song down, but Copeland has seemingly gone out of his way to absolutely fucking bury an entire album’s worth f good song – give or take.

There are strains of Silver Apples’ analogue tripouts which emerge from the dark depths, ‘Motorcycles’ sounds like Suicide playing ‘Louie Louie’ in a basement bar three blocks away. And far from dumbing things down as the title suggests, this album presents a real challenge to the listener, namely ‘do you have the patience?’ Well, do you? Such patience is rewarded, however much frustration the audio levels may cause, because the no-fi primitivism is, ultimately, integral to the experience of the album.

The MP3 age has made us snobbish about fidelity – and the trend for 180gm vinyl pressings likewise. And some may say that there’s no excuse for rough, sloppy recordings anymore, but anyone who recalls or has a taste for lo-fi, be it 60s psych, late 70s / early 80s bedroom 4-tracking will vouch for the way in which this kind of stuff can touch the listener in ways which resonate beyond the articulable. Ultimately, Dumb It Down is lowkey, lo-fi and low-impact, and I like it.



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