words by DAVID HOGG
Anyone familiar with Brian Harding or Amalie Bruun’s previous work might be surprised by the direction they’ve taken with their latest project, Ex Cops. Throughout True Hallucinations, the debut from this Brooklyn duo, Harding and Bruun have proven themselves adept at creating infectious indie pop songs. Their songs are not only immediately appealing, but fluent in the indie pop and dream pop classics, and do their best to imitate their influences. The influences are diverse enough to make True Hallucinations worth exploring, but it still lacks the cohesion needed to bring Ex Cops out of the shadows of their predecessors.
The first half of True Hallucinations is a collection of upbeat, reverb-heavy indie pop songs, somewhere between the territory of Wild Nothing and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. From the driving “Ken” to the shuffle-beat “Spring Break (Birthday Song),” Ex Cops’ display of songwriting is so shamelessly saccharine that it’s hard not to be taken in by their charm. That a song about drug addiction can sound as breezy and sun-soaked as “James” really speaks to the appeal of this aesthetic. Part-deadbeat, part-insecure, and entirely carefree, it’s a familiar tone universal to most in their mid-20s.
The allure of these songs can be attributed in part to some of the duo’s hallmarks: Harding’s boyish vocals, Bruun’s airy harmonies, some great guitar riffs, and an enormous haze of reverb. But really, what makes songs like “James” and “Separator” so appealing is that they are reminiscent of many of the best lo-fi, chillwave, and indie pop bands from the past few years. As charming and catchy as these songs may be, it would be a stretch to give Ex Cops much credit for originality here. The list of summery indie pop bands in the past five years is an excessively expansive one, so while Ex Cops have a couple nice songs in that style, there’s really little here to set them apart from the crowd.
The only moment from the album worth real distinction is the brilliant “The Millionaire.” More mature and reflective than anything else from True Hallucinations, it’s the only moment on the album when Ex Cops reveal potential for growth. It’s a slow-burning ballad with a lush atmosphere of synths and guitars, a softly repetitive drum beat, and some of Harding and Bruun’s best melodies and harmonies. Simplistic and honest, it’s by far the strongest song off True Hallucinations.
With so many different sides to Ex Cops – including the space-rock “Jazz & Information,” The Feelies-inspired “Billy Pressly,” and the Jesus & the Mary Chain-meets-Velvet Underground “Nico Beast” – one doesn’t really get a strong sense for who Ex Cops are. Granted, there are consistent characteristics that are used throughout the album, such as atmospheric reverb and looming harmonies from Bruun; however, these can easily be traced not only to the original influences, but to other contemporary bands exploring the same ideas. Until Ex Cops stumble upon a niche and make it their own, their career is going to be eclipsed by listeners hearing influence over innovation in their music. [C+]
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Stream True Hallucinations on this week’s Spinning column.