New York-based duo Ex Cops have wasted no time in releasing their follow-up to last year’s debut True Hallucinations. The nomadic pair, comprised of Danish songstress Amalie Bruun and Brian Harding, explored everything from breezy, infectious pop songs, to space-rock, and reverb-heavy indie-pop on their debut, and their myriad influences remain evident in Daggers.
While the outfit claims that they are no longer afraid of their favourite music, pop, album opener Black Soap sounds more like an effort to reinvent the allure of 90s alt rock than an attempt at pop-acceptance. The influence of executive producer Billy Corgan is immediately evident on this first track, emitting 90s grunge vibes with those quintessentially apathetic vocals, lo-fi guitars, and simple percussion, that unexpectedly transforms into a cloud of synthesiser-led electro-pop once the chorus kicks in. The album’s latest single, White Noise, then launches into danceable electro-pop, whose pulsing beats, shimmering guitars and a constant synth motif that just won’t let up, better supports Ex Cop’s recognition of pop-love.
The brand of pop established by White Noise mutates into more club-geared sound in Teenagers. The track captures the flippant, youthful abandon of pubescence with mature and impeccable production. The contrast between the pair’s vocals works well to further illustrate the emotional complexities of adolescence. The strength of Bruun’s voice shines again in the title track, as well as in the languid, minimalistic RnB atmosphere of Burnt Out Love.
Things take a turn for the worse, however, with the appropriately titled Pretty Shitty, which sounds like the generic song that accompanies the credits of a 90s teen rom-com. Its overly simplistic harmonic structure, unsophisticated lyrics and unimaginative melody sound more lacklustre than quirky. We are thrown into yet another musical world with the piano-driven, heavily ABBA-inspired Modern World, and again with the balladic Wanna Be.
The last quarter of the album throws us a curveball, as Tragically Alright marks a dramatic aesthetic shift. The more organic instrumentation, including steel slides, piano and Harding’s breathy vocals, sees Daggers roll out guitar-driven folk rock, which continues with Rooms. Its intense lyrical content and aching delivery contrasts starkly with the frivolity of earlier tracks like Pretty Shitty. Finally, the rattling, garage-rock of Weird With You ends the eclectic, and somewhat confusing album.
Daggers is pulled in so many sonic directions that its potential to be an original and diverse sophomore release, rather than insecure and uncertain, was not realised. The problem, though, isn’t the pair’s extensive influences, but rather lies in the uncertainty with which they explore them. Ex Cops may have declared that they’re comfortable acknowledging their love of pop music, but they haven’t yet become assured enough to create a confident, distinct sound in which these influences can manifest.