By: N. David Pastor
I suppose I didn’t really see it coming. I had been anticipating the debut release of this band for a few months after initially listening to “She Came Through (Again).” There wasn’t much press back then, but there was an album in the works and a small independent record label in Minnesota prepared to release it as well. Then suddenly, the Los Angeles Police Department crossed whatever threshold exists before an artist develops his or her profile. And that’s just what has slowly been happening in the last few weeks. With press in Pitchfork, Spin, and Consequence of Sound among others, I’ve always found it interesting to track this gradual shift toward recognition. It’s a process of drafting, adapting, and eventually settling on an image that makes sense. In this case, bedroom pop comes to mind. But this isn’t bedroom pop anymore insofar as the band has just signed with a booking agency and announced a short tour of West Coast dates. So how does one introduce a band like Los Angeles Police Department?
That’s where the music, an extension of the artist, enters into conversation with criticism. Our purpose is to find an overriding aesthetic or allude to possible influences; we define the music in terms that hopefully a listener can understand, i.e. we place it into context. Afterwards, not only does the music retain a certain identity, we also begin to ascribe several expectations to the artist–like any relationship really. That’s part of the allure of discovering something new. As a critic, you become part of this process. So with that in mind, I have to say that Los Angeles Police Department is sort of like a mixture of liquids that haven’t really settled as of yet–which is not necessarily a bad thing, it merely suggests a wide range of influences or a reluctance to decide on an overriding aesthetic.
There are actually about four or five different styles working against each other throughout the record. At best, there is a Justin Vernon-like vulnerability to the vocals (falsetto harmonies notwithstanding) and the sort of orchestration, especially on “Go Down,” that could be found on a Beirut album (without the eclecticism of instrumentation). “The Cave” and the aforementioned “She Came Through (Again)” also evoke these two sounds. On the other hand, there are more than a few songs with elements of psychedelic pop (“1,000 Leagues” and “Enough is Enough” for example). Then there’s a folk tune (“August 31”) and a barnyard burner (“If You See My Woman”) to close out the record.
These aren’t necessarily disparate influences, but it’s interesting to note how they refuse to blend together into one distinct sound. In this way, the self-titled debut seems to oscillate between emulation and originality. It’s a wonderfully post-modern condition, like paying homage to nothing in particular. However, the most important aspect is that the band still manages to convey a sense of intimacy. And perhaps that should be considered the overriding aesthetic when you consider that Ryan Pollie is a pretty decent songwriter. I know lyrics aren’t always a priority, but with themes like sorrow and remorse, they are constant that keeps the record at an even pace. And so that becomes another redeeming quality for a record that presents itself with an affable identity crisis. I have to keep reiterating that this shouldn’t be perceived as a negative aspect, but in response to some of the album’s relative acclaim, this album is less of an arrival and more of a promise of things to come.