Arranging a seemingly endless string of hooks, Harlem has upped the ante with Hippies
, the sloppy-sounding, fuzzy sophomore record from a band that is smarter than it sounds and catchy as hell. With album titles like Free Drugs
, not to mention a serious bout of nostalgia for beach pop cooked with Nirvana aesthetics, expectations could include indigestion, or bland flavors. Instead, Harlem hides their sleeves and knuckles up; song after song could be the soundtrack to a day of surfing, driving through the mountains, or just jumping up and down. Their ubiquity is their most charming asset.
Unfortunately, it also lends itself to bleeding. If EVERY song is a single, and a band is fairly cohesive with their sound, then they all wind up sounding the same. Admittedly, after a large amount of listens, the titles of any given song are not easily discernable from their content. A few slower bits provide clues and digressions, and the two members of the band trading vocals lend a subtle lean in one direction or another. But this isn't Wolf Parade. At the end of the day, Hippies
is all one really distinct color. Thus, of the sixteen selections, they are either all my favorite or none my favorite. Luckily in this case, it's former.
It will be easy for some to dismiss Harlem as riding the current wave of distorted throwback pop, which is very in vogue now (and is always in vogue, nothing is new). Garage is the new studio. Each song chugs along swimmingly with an undercurrent of jaunty riffs and lyrical simplicity (nothing more difficult to interpret than a "I live in a graveyard/I want to go out but it's too hard", or the terrible/hilarious "Stripper Sunset". Peeks of southern twang and Texas swagger punctuate the pop, giving Harlem a solid spot somewhere in between The Morning Benders (but more raw) and the Black Lips (and closer to the Lips, especially towards the end). At least geographically, that makes sense. The rest is just good, uptempo, dirty, sticky pop in a loud garage, and that's good enough justification for enjoyment in my book. -joe puglisi
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MP3:"Friendly Ghost" (Hippies)
Harlem on Myspace