Ex Cops: Daggers

Ex Cops’ sophomore LP is an alt-rock album with a pathological eagerness to please, so naturally, it involves… Ariel Pink and Billy Corgan? The former makes a guest appearance, the latter serves as a co-writer and executive producer, and what’s even crazier is that neither is the most contentious artist connected with this thing. That would be Ex Cops’ own Amalie Bruun. Earlier this year, Bruun was revealed as the voice behind the anonymous but suspiciously well-publicized one-woman black-metal project Myrkur. As a result, she became 2014’s hottest flashpoint in a community that never needs much spark, the target of a #Gamergate-style crusade that used dubious calls for “ethics” and full disclosure as a front for what often amounted to outright misogyny. But the music itself, standard issue Ulver-esque doom-gaze, was certainly subject to valid criticism—too polished, lacking distinction, too willing to ride a crested wave. All of that is even more true of Daggers.

This doesn’t make it a bad record on its own. Let’s remember, this is an alt-rock album with a pathological eagerness to please. And sometimes, Daggers hits its target with focus-grouped precision. Opener “Black Soap” doesn’t really sound like Smashing Pumpkins or Zwan, but Billy Corgan has spent the past 15 or so years trying to make music that sounds like  it—compressed acoustic guitars buzzing against drum machine chatter, blasting into a chorus that has the luscious curvature of shoegaze. The mere title of “White Noise” instantly places Ex Cops in a conversation that involves Disclosure, AlunaGeorge, and, now, Taylor Swift, which can’t be totally unintentional; except it’s the next song that actually sounds like all of them at the same time and it’s called, not coincidentally, “Teenagers”. We could suss out the minor tributaries Daggers cuts from the mainstream on a track-by-track basis, but in short, their glitchy, witchy synth-pop toasts so enthusiastically to the success of Chvrches and Haim, Ex Cops might as well change their name to L’chaim!.

While Bruun thrives in this setting, Brian Harding’s muttered, displaced vocals are the only way you’ll remember that Ex Cops also made True Hallucinations, a debut that also used enthusiasm to compensate for tardinessin that case, a style of glistening dream-pop reminiscent of a time where the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, DIIV, and Wild Nothing were what you immediately thought of when people used “indie rock” and “Brooklyn” in the same sentence. That album came out in 2013 and it seems like a decade ago. This isn’t a change of heart, it’s a heart transplant, and a cynic could use its convenient timing as irrefutable proof of Ex Cops as commerce rather than art. That’s also a shitty double standard: if we’re really to take their word that they are and always were a pop band, part of the job is sounding of the moment. They’ve succeeded on that end. But Daggers is easy enough to like and impossible to trust.

Engage with Daggers and you hear pandering ad exec logic, an attempt to identify a demographic that considers themselves “indie” but not an outcast. You go to dance clubs! Or at least you’d like the idea of it. Bruun sings, “I never hear songs that lead me to the dance floor,” because this is dance music for contained debauchery, kitchen drinking. You do drugs! Or at least you know people who do; “Pretty Shitty” tries to contract the same incapacitating mental and physical corruption that infects Sky Ferreira (Night Time, My Time contributor Justin Raisen produced all 11 songs and co-wrote a few as well), except Ex Cops never sound like they’re willing to shed blood or have any skin in the game. The chorus of “Pretty Shitty” might be in some way a response to Bruun’s experience in Myrkur, but, “How can you be so shitty/ To a girl so pretty?” seems more in line with the pervasive, aggressive insipidness, Ex Cops claiming “pop” as a cop out.

For example, the chorus from “Teenagers”—”We can start a war/ ‘Cause we’re insecure/ We’re like teenagers.” Like most lines here, it scans as Ex Cops guessing at the listener’s emotions rather than feeling their own, but you know what? Ex Cops are like teenagers, if you’re willing to take a generous view of Daggers and hear it as a concept album about the particularly adolescent desperation of seeking acceptance, of doing anything and everything to fit in. On the closing “Weird With You”, Harding begs, “I wanna be dumb with you/ I wanna be numb with you/ I wanna be weird with you.” It’s the first moment of true self-awareness, Ex Cops admitting that if someone just walks in front, they’ll follow the leader.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/14giTVO