Acoustic Sounds

The Dare

The Sex EP



The Dare 'The Sex EP' album cover

Label: Republic

Produced By: Harrison Patrick Smith

Engineered By: Harrison Patrick Smith and Nick Sylvester

Mixed By: Lars Stalfors

Mastered By: Ruairi O'Flaherty

The Dare's Borrowed Nostalgia For The Hardly-Remembered 2000s

'The Sex EP' is hedonism manifested in its dumbest form, taken to its absolute dumbest conclusion

“I’m losing my edge…to the art school Brooklynites in little jackets… and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s.”

When a then-32-year-old James Murphy uttered that line on LCD Soundsystem’s 2002 debut single “Losing My Edge,” it was about the millennial hipsters taking over New York City, recycling culture and fashion from a quarter-century before. Unlike their aesthetic predecessors, they didn’t have to work hard to find anything; they were “internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978,” obtaining instantly what previous generations like Murphy’s spent years looking for. That early-00s era marked the beginning of pop culture’s obsession with the 80s, a still-ongoing period of cultural stagnation attributed to the proliferation of capitalism and the resulting widening wealth gaps (leftist cultural theorist Mark Fisher) or the way the internet has accelerated culture and made its history so accessible—too accessible (music critic Simon Reynolds). “[Online], you can flit from the archaic to the up-to-the-minute in a click. The result, culturally, is a paradoxical combination of speed and standstill,” Reynolds wrote in his 2011 book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past.

21 years later, Murphy’s line about the younger generation with “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s” remains prescient. Alongside the ongoing millennial-originated 80s retro obsession, Gen Z has mined everything the 90s has to offer from Slint to Britney Spears. At least for those who didn’t live it, the 90s seems like the last time where the technological future looked bright, but hadn’t yet rotted individual interactions or mass communications. The last time when something actually happened with real people doing real things with each other. After all, when was the last time you heard something new that felt almost completely detached from anything you’d ever heard before?

This brings us to 2023, when there’s a not-insignificant risk that The Dare becomes massively popular. 27-year-old Harrison Patrick Smith’s latest endeavor, The Dare revives the sound and fashion of the mid-late 00s indie sleaze era, itself partly a throwback to the 80s. A recent GQ profile reading like a paid promotion portrays The Dare as the life of the party, going through the WikiHow steps of “how to be a NYC rock star:” wearing a suit and tie, looking like a cross between a young Julian Casablancas and Paul Weller, attracting all the girls in the club, being courted at expensive record label lunches, and reveling in his local celebrity status. “The way Smith sees it, music has been too smooth, too serious, and above all, too complicated,” the article says, describing this “scene” as “a reflection of modern anxieties and ambitions. The aesthetic flourishes of this aughts redux are secondary to the sharp tinge of nostalgia young people feel for the subcultures and communities that defined life in the very recent—but spiritually distant—past."

Harrison Patrick Smith is a zillennial: too young to be a proper millennial, too old to be a zoomer. This means that he was old enough to watch indie sleaze happen originally but too young to participate. Looking at Smith’s own past, one finds that he’s spent years toiling away towards a music career. Turtlenecked, his late-2010s indie rock project in Portland, didn’t go anywhere—because let’s face it, nothing ever goes anywhere in this city—so he moved to Brooklyn and reinvented himself as The Dare. Tried and true classic rock ’n’ roll move, which often works to some extent simply because it’s been done so many times.

But how can you be edgy and fresh and new when your schtick has already been done a million times over? Answer: you can’t. The GQ article describes a bidding war that ended with The Dare signing to Republic and releasing a four-track EP earlier this month. It’s called The Sex EP, of course, and has people fucking on the cover, because wow, that’s such a bold move in safe and sanitized 2023. (No one cared about that part until culture war conservatives on Twitter formed baseless conspiracies that the models are underage and that Smith, formerly a private school substitute teacher, is therefore a pedophile.) The way Smith regurgitates these rock star tropes in modern Disneyland New York, surrounded by people buying into it as something “real” and “cool” to brag about on their Instagram pages, reminds me of something Mark Fisher wrote in his 2009 book Capitalist Realism:

“What we are dealing with now is not the incorporation of materials that previously seemed to possess subversive potentials, but instead, their precorporation: the pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations and hopes by capitalist culture. Witness, for instance, the establishment of settled 'alternative' or 'independent' cultural zones, which endlessly repeat older gestures of rebellion and contestation as if for the first time. 'Alternative' and 'independent' don't designate something outside mainstream culture; rather, they are styles, in fact the dominant styles, within the mainstream.”

Essentially, it’s hard to buy into The Dare as something excitingly new or genuine when it all feels like a revival of the later, corporatized version of an already superficial scene. But how’s the actual music?

The Sex EP is hedonism manifested in its dumbest form, taken to its absolute dumbest conclusion. Across four short songs, Harrison Patrick Smith crafts something so mind-numbing and stupid that with each second of listening, you say goodbye to a few more brain cells. “Girls,” his breakout single, acts as a sort of mission statement to The Dare. “Owwwww!!! Woo!” he yelps over a squelchy synth before launching into the first verse: “I like the girls that do drugs (drugs!)/Girls with cigarettes in the back of the club (club!)/Girls that hate cops and buy guns (guns!)”/“I like girls that make love, but I love girls who like to fuck/That’s what’s up!”.

Just how music critics of 2002 couldn’t write about Interpol without mentioning that they sound a bit like Joy Division, you can’t talk about The Dare without referencing LCD Soundsystem. Sonically, “Girls” uses LCD-like analog synths, ever-present cymbals, and claps, and vocally tries to emulate James Murphy’s casual-sounding, often humorous delivery. The issue is obvious: Harrison Patrick Smith is not very funny, sounds like he’s trying too hard, and while Murphy’s lyrics were smart, Smith is the Lil Pump of wannabe dance-punk/electroclash/whatever. Even when Smith draws up a slightly clever line—“They say I’m too fucking horny, wanna put me in a cage/I’d probably fuck the hole in the wall the guy before made” on “Girls,” “Sex, it’s what I’m thinking of, some people call it ‘love,’ I might even finish it way too quick” on “Sex”—he completely negates it by sounding like he way overthought it.

More than anything, this awkwardness is The Sex EP’s fundamental failure. As The Dare, Smith can’t convince himself that he’s supposed to be a rock star, much less convince the rest of us. Similarly, during his time as Turtlenecked, his Johnny Rotten impersonation sounded like Smith was too uncertain about the bit to make it work, yet not self-aware enough to show you that, at the end of the day, he also knows it’s a bit.

Even as dumb background music, The Sex EP is not enjoyable. At all. “OWWWWW!!! LET’S HAVE SOME FUN TONIIIIIGGGHHHTTTTT!!!!” Smith yells at you on “Good Time.” “I’m in the city while you’re online! I’m in the club while you’re online!” he continues. It is absolutely fucking obnoxious. “Sex” has grating drums and sounds incessantly labored over, like he’s trying to sound just the right amount of bad boy casual. “Bloodwork” is a mediocre house track, but at four minutes, it goes for four minutes too long. The Sex EP is supposed to be dirty and cool, though really it’s safe and boring.

Back to James Murphy and “Losing My Edge.” In 2010, Murphy said:

“One night I went to go see a band and somebody else was playing the records that I was playing and nobody else was playing [those] records. That was, like, my thing. And I got really mad and defensive and I was just like ‘that’s mine, who the hell is this, some 22 year old…’ And I got really embarrassed by being like, ‘These aren’t your records, you didn’t write them, you just play them, you just own them, you can’t be proud of yourself for owning them.’”

By that logic, do I have any right to be offended by The Dare’s existence? I was not around during the period that Smith takes from; I have no generational ownership of that era’s culture, and he’s not infringing on anything I hold sacred, because I have no right to hold sacred something I wasn’t there for. But Smith wasn’t there either, and his reliance on such obvious, watered-down references and cliches provokes deep cultural concern. Pop culture has always examined its own past, but has it slowed down so much that we’re collectively already mining such a recent part of its history? Cultural slowdown has been visible since the new millennium, but its severity has increased tenfold post-COVID. Taylor Swift’s zillion-selling Midnights, released last October, is so obsessed with 2014 aesthetics that by the time humans invent time travel, 2023 and 2014 will look completely indistinguishable. Rather than using the past as something to reference and expand upon, pop music and culture now engages in blatant repetition of a time period too recent to have fresh perspective on.

That’s why the phenomenon of The Dare deserves such forensic examination. The Sex EP isn’t simply a bad record, it’s a bad record that symbolizes a much larger issue. Maybe you just have to be there to get it. Maybe I’m a couple years too young, or spiritually too old. Still, the possibility of Harrison Patrick Smith becoming a big-time pop star deeply worries me. We’ve long been in a looping hellscape of “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered [insert time period here].” If it continues much longer, we might never find a way out.

(The sound quality of the 44.1kHz/24bit stream of The Sex EP is fine—pristine but slightly lacking in character. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.)

Music Specifications

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Digital Stream


  • 2023-06-02 12:02:58 AM

    Anton wrote:

    You know what I love about your review? That you have the energy to get upset by something you don’t like!

    That first song link:

    A touch of ‘Firestarter’ hidden in the beat and in beat breaks.

    A touch of Beastie Boys sonic inflection.

    Mostly: go play Cake’s “Short Skirt and Long Jacket” and lots of similarity.

    You know the old saying, steal from one source and it’s plagiarism, steal from four sources and it’s a dissertation, steal from six sources and it’s original material!

  • 2023-06-02 12:19:21 AM

    Anton wrote:

    And another thing: what speakers are those?

    • 2023-06-03 06:50:52 AM

      Georges wrote:

      Mc Intosh lookalike in DIY mode (looks like an old box with modern speakers, a line of mids is no longer too relevant in view of the phase).

  • 2023-06-02 05:42:05 AM

    Diogo wrote:

    Reading this made me laugh. Thanks for the detailed review (and concerns)!

    (still, the music's enjoyable enough)

  • 2023-06-02 11:23:59 AM

    Matthew Williams wrote:

    I went to high school and college in the 80s. It was fine. There was some good music. I don't want to return to it.

  • 2023-06-02 11:24:59 AM

    Matthew Williams wrote:

    Also, I'd like to point out that they have their clothes on which is going to make sex a bit hard.

    • 2023-06-03 06:42:56 AM

      Georges wrote:

      They start like that then it hardens and they strip off uh.

  • 2023-06-02 01:32:06 PM

    HiFiMark wrote:

    Though I know no one at Tracking Angle would condone what it implies, it saddens me deeply that you all would include the cover photo from this record.

    That is a child on the speaker, or a female who certainly appears to be. The female in green looks to be a minor as well.

    This is profoundly troubling, and in an audiophile website of all places, especially in our broken world of devastating abuse.


    • 2023-06-02 03:12:38 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      This album was released on Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group. You can be sure no minors are in those photos and that the photo depicts a ridiculous simulation intended to trigger. I hope you read the article before posting your comment. If not, please do!

      • 2023-06-04 05:25:32 PM

        Anton wrote:

        You never know, what if some impressionable 17 year old was allowed to see that picture? HiFiMark was profoundly troubled. Imagine what it could do to a teenager.

    • 2023-06-02 03:27:56 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      i'll just reply with this meme from one of my favorite bohemian layabout podcasters:

      • 2023-06-02 06:07:42 PM

        HiFiMark wrote:

        So according to you I am a retarded conspiracy boomer because I am saddened by a photo that implies sex with what appears to be two minor girls? I never said or thought that you or any others at TA condoned what is implied here and it is clear your review of this music is strongly negative. Nevertheless, I was disheartened to see the photo published and thought I could express that to other adults without being marginalized as a triggered, retarded, conspiracy boomer. Wow. Just wow.

        • 2023-06-02 07:15:25 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          lol it's a dasha tweet don't take it too seriously

        • 2023-06-02 09:28:55 PM

          Anton wrote:

          Just so you know, it’s four guys on the cover.

        • 2023-06-03 06:46:36 AM

          Georges wrote:

          Better be condomed with those girls or you can get a nice surprise, surprise, I can see it in her eyes.

        • 2023-06-03 11:43:28 AM

          Michael Fremer wrote:

          I don't think Malachi's referring you to that meme was intended to imply what you suggest. The cover is what it is. Had we published a review of a reissue of "Blind Faith", which includes an underage girl's naked torso what would be your reaction? It was the album cover so we'd publish it. Just like this one.

          • 2023-06-04 07:00:00 PM

            Georges wrote:

            Or the scorpions album?

        • 2023-06-05 10:52:31 AM

          Diogo wrote:

          It's an album cover. Leave it alone.

  • 2023-06-03 06:54:15 AM

    Georges wrote:

    I like the two songs, way too short but good, the videos too. Longer hair would suit him better than the cheesy emenemy haircut.

  • 2023-06-05 02:52:59 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    I am indeed horrified by that album cover... and I'm cool with a lot of shit out there. Lol.. disturbing. Glad it sucks too.