Sprawl of Sound

When the Going Gets Weird, Listen Up: Eric Copeland and No Age's odysseys of oddity

No Age (LA movers and quakers Dean Sprunt and Randy Randall, also key figures at DIY venue The Smell) used to play in the late, great Wives, whose 2004 album, Erect the Youth Problem, bristled with wiry punk energy. Their newer work as a duo has found its way into the unlikely stable of renowned UK imprint FatCat, whose impresarios decided to collate and issue on CD the best bits from five of their limited-edition vinyl releases. The result is the 11-track Weirdo Rippers (out Aug. 28), a brilliant slice of lo-fi pop coated in golden murk.

No Age draw inspiration from punk's first generation, but they shear off all the corny signifiers (mohawks, black leather jackets, stoopid machismo, SID LIVES T-shirts, etc.). Instead, No Age turn punk inward, foregoing facile sloganeering for more idiosyncratic observations ("Every Artist Needs a Tragedy" is a case in point). In this way they're more like punk mavericks such as Wire and Swell Maps: smart dudes who used punk's anarchic energy and liberating spirit as jumping-off points for their own peculiar rock mutations. Early-'80s post-punk and '90s lo-fi also color No Age's scrappy aesthetic.

So, Weirdo Rippers is an apt title. "Boy Void" is an exhilarating 105 seconds of Pink Flag-ian blur and blare that even borrows a Wire lyric ("It's so obvious"). "I Wanna Sleep" recalls Liars' storming, gothic post-punk. "My Life's Alright Without You" and "Everybody's Down" are endearing lo-fi pop songs that balance dissonance with sugary melody, resulting in a prickly rush. "Loosen This Job," on the other hand, buries its wistful tune within insectoid buzz, electric-razor z-z-z-zaps and muted guitar whorls. When you have to work harder to hear the pretty melody, you appreciate it much more. "Dead Plane" starts like its titular subject (an engine drone nose-diving to oblivion) before it kicks into a chugging din reminiscent of New Zealand's Bailter Space. Another Kiwi artist, Gate, seems to inspire "Semi-Sorted," whose steel-wool drones and cyclonic noise swells eventually yield a poignant little song you could conceivably hum. "Escarpment" pits abattoir ambience against a tranquil, liquid guitar meditation before riding into the smoggy sunset with a throbbing, Half Japanese-like squall and Morse-code bleat.

Eric Copeland: Mad maker of maleficent maelstroms. Photo courtsey of Paw Tracks.
Eric Copeland: Mad maker of maleficent maelstroms. Photo courtsey of Paw Tracks.

I have a feeling that Weirdo Rippers is just the beginning of a deluge of No Age goodness. Keep 'em peeled for more output.

Speaking of a weirdo ripper, Eric Copeland drops his first solo album Aug. 14, titled Hermaphrodite (Paw Tracks). A member of Brooklyn's psychedelic illuminati Black Dice and—along with Animal Collective's Avey Tare—Terrestrial Tones, this sound manipulator knows a few things about forging aural phantasms. It's damned-near impossible to figure out how the sounds on Hermaphrodite are being generated, what instruments and actions are being used. Sparse, unhelpful liner notes lend no clues, either. No matter. Best simply to immerse yourself in Copeland's maleficent maelstrom and forget about mundane details.

The disc begins with "Hermaphrodite," which instantly submerges you in a deceptively cheerful swirl of corroded guitar ululations, and then gradually morphs into weirdly smeared fanfares, muttering voices and crudely hit tom-toms. It's a "welcome to my funhouse of distorted mirrors" start to a disc that takes disorientation as its guiding principle. "La Booly Boo" sounds like Indonesian circus music filtered through a Westerner's LSDemented perspective. If I ever get married, this is the song I'd want played at the ceremony, if only to witness the WTF?! expressions on everyone's faces. Also, I think an institution as absurd and flawed as marriage deserves such fucked-up accompaniment.

Elsewhere, "Green Burrito" verges on a touching alien beauty, its looped and distorted voices and mutated ascending Theremin motif (could it be from the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations"?) providing an idyllic respite from the pervasive bad-trip vibe here. Similarly, "Spacehead" is insanely cheerful yet it still registers an undercurrent of unsettling feeling below the Residents-like melodic warpage. "Tree Aliens" should grace the soundtrack to the next Blair Witch Project installment, although I wouldn't be surprised if it were rejected for being too creepy. "Scum Pipe" sounds like a Throbbing Gristle title and resembles that British group's abuse of aural decorum in all its scabrous, metallic gory [sic]. Disc closer "Scraps" is one badass UFO (Unexplainable Fucked-up Oscillations) of queasy dimensions, and the most Black Dice-like piece here.

If you ask me, there just aren't enough musicians going down this lysergic route—maybe because the psychic toll it exerts on those who venture that way is too exorbitant (plus, it has practically zero commercial potential). Which is why I highly respect artists who risk their tenuous grips on sanity to forage within the sonic spectrum's most disturbing strata. Copeland qualifies as one of our boldest practitioners of equilibrium-threatening compositions, and Hermaphrodite ranks among the year's most bafflingly addictive odysseys of oddity, along with Panda Bear's Person Pitch. What a way to (verti)go.

FOR MORE INFO ON NO AGE, VISIT WWW.MYSPACE.COM/NONOAGE ; ERIC COPELAND, WWW.PAW-TRACKS.COM. NO AGE PERFORM AT THE TROUBADOUR AUG. 23 AND AT THE ECHO AUG. 26. THOSE SHOWS ARE IN LA BUT SHOULD BE WORTH THE DRIVE.

 
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