Double Dagger

Masks EP

(Thrill Jockey; 2010)

By Peter Hepburn | 30 April 2010

Last year the Baltimore trio Double Dagger released their third album, More, reviewed rather positively on this site by Conrad Amenta. I would tend to be less cautious in my analysis of that album than Conrad was, and even less so in regards to the band itself: after seeing them play a few times I can fairly say that I just fucking love these guys.

Conrad is absolutely right, however, to sound a note of concern in appraising the merit of any band that pursues the route that Double Dagger has chosen to follow. This is a band that plays a version of DC hardcore that can come off as willfully anachronistic. Their drums-bass-vocals set-up makes for an intriguingly pared down adaptation, but I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a description of More or the new Masks EP that didn’t make mention of Fugazi. It’s to the band’s credit that they measure up pretty well, but how many points can you really score in a game that was played out in ’94? As Conrad put it, “When a band does its best imitation of its record collection it seems intent on communicating exactly what it’s about and who it’s for. The listener’s sense of discovery is stillborn, and agitprop becomes historical driftwood. Which would be ironic here, given the source material.”

The band, for their part, is both aware of the trap—their Thrill Jockey page goes to great lengths to lists off the dozens of bands to whom they’ve been compared—and not wasting all that much time worrying over it. The most direct reflection on the subject is “Imitation is the most Boring form of Flattery,” a nasty kiss-off for the sorts of bands that, well, boringly imitate their influences and not much else. There’s Nolen Strals, seemingly irony-free, screaming it out: “You don’t see the past as a source of inspiration / You just have it set as your final destination.”

I’m not really sure what to make of the contradiction, to be honest, but “Imitation” is too good—too clever, squalling, and mean—a song to get hung up on that. The rest of the EP doesn’t exactly break ground, but there’s a lot of great stuff here: “Pillow Talk” is perverse and funny and has a really great bass hook, while “Sleeping with the TV On” is the sort of cathartic punk anthem they proved they were capable of repeatedly on More. I’ll be curious to see if these guys branch into something new after this EP—I don’t doubt they’re capable of it—but even if all that Double Dagger amounts to in the end is an occasional quite-good missive from some wonderful world where Fugazi are still king, well, we could do a lot worse.