Mastermind behind burgeoning bedroom act Los Angeles Police Department, Ryan Pollie confesses in the first chorus of his debut self-titled release, “I caved too soon.” It’s often tempting to turn these sorts of lyrics into instructive tales or contrarian bromides with which to filter an album: It is or isn’t about giving up. The rest of the record then can be understood as either a function of capitulation or the act of being resolute. Even with such a beautiful, complex, and frankly charming, debut record as Pollie penned, we seek reduction. But the singer isn’t interested in our polemics. Pollie is interested in spaces, parabola choruses and the caverns of absence, the expected and the unexpected, the inscrutable. The album runs only 24 minutes and Pollie calls it and himself Los Angeles Police Department; everything simple is also complex, everything complex also simple.
Behind the success of early singles, “Waste” and “Only One”, a track that also shows up on the full-length, Pollie suggests a sophistication on his debut LP that transcends the lo-fi bedroom aesthetic. The album’s first half represents as strong a collection of songs as will appear on any debut LP in 2014, maybe the best of its variety since the debut Youth Lagoon record. Holding a natural gift for writing hooks, the types of modulated choruses that make pop music so instantly memorable, Pollie buries earworm refrains in fuzz and lightly splashing cymbal hits. The mournful “The Only One” sails up on Pollie’s falsetto and the obliteration of a line like, “You’re the only one I can be myself with.” Lead single, “She Came Through (Again)” relies on a down-stroke strum pattern and viscous backing vocals that wash in with each verse. The architecture of the arrangements remains simple, the hooks resting on the repetition of a few familiar notes. The choruses sound both so alive and so fragile, you lean closer to verify their inhale and exhale. Courting substantially less abrasion, the feeling here is a Neutral Milk Hotel record stuffed full of opiates.
Pollie manuevers toward increasingly plaintive territory in the second half of the LP. Barring the Velvet Underground cribbing closer, “If You See My Woman”, Los Angeles Police Department slows nearly to halt on “Bishops Rd” and “August 31”. The quiet brilliance of the opening tracks still lies here, but Pollie moves toward a sonic discussion of negative space, even providing the lyrically empty and vaguely baroque, “Interluden”. A sweet duet emerges in “Bishops Rd.” as Pollie sings the appropriate, “I need the battle of the quiet season/ I see the face of what’s to come,” and the song evaporates in less than 90 seconds, followed by a crash and then silence. Pollie perhaps has had his fill of the subtle, rousing hooks of the album’s first half. The space here is no more depressing or inspiring than the pregnancy of the opening movement. There is fullness, and there is emptiness: not one or the other, but one then another. The delicacy in Los Angeles Police Department lies in how uninterested Ryan Pollie is in working these problems through to resolution. We cave. We are the only ones. We come through, again. This is a little slice of life’s complex and unresolved pageant. Even on the comparatively emphatic, “Enough Is Enough”, Pollie rejoinders quickly to “I’m biding my time,” a shrug before returning to his most rigid, “I’m writing you off.” This line, of course, is written into a song.
For songs worked through in the bedroom, Los Angeles Police Department emerges as a record intended to plumb the depths of both the self and the outside world. We know each other through the beauty and terror of fraught interactions. No fortune cookie wisdom or platitude can alter the complexity of the self cast among others. Pollie’s work is not finally about giving up or not giving in but seeing the unavoidable truths around us. He sings “I drowned in something I already knew” on “One Thousand Leagues”, suggesting that our dread represents nothing new, an ancient and modern trouble. We fear what we cannot reduce. A little record from the bedroom can be both more than that and nothing else at the same time.