TUESDAY, JUNE 02, 2009|
Listening to Technicolor Health, the long-awaited full-length album from Harlem Shakes, is a bit like trying to unwrap a Starburst with your tongue. Sometimes everything comes together in a colorful display of skill, everyone is impressed, and your whole day is made brighter and more delicious. Sometimes something gets tangled, you get overwhelmed by sugar and red #40, and all of a sudden you're trying to tactfully spit out paper without alerting the rest of the partygoers to your predicament. Still, it's irresistible to try.
The Harlem Shakes hail from the unapologetically bright side of the rainbow, offering a shiny happy album for shiny happy people. The Brooklyn quintet boasts a powerful arsenal of catchy hooks, hand claps, and doo-wop backup harmonies. The dance-friendly keyboards, optimistic lyrics, attention to detail, and careful assimilation of familiar artists establish Technicolor Health as a summer staple, not to mention a beautifully crafted piece of pop.
Something about five squeaky-clean Yale grads calling themselves the Harlem Shakes while producing bouncy pop is sure to draw comparisons to last summer's Columbia-dwelling Afro-influenced it-kids Vampire Weekend. However, Technicolor Health's arrangements are less spotlessly produced. The homey fuzziness of a garage recording coupled with singer Lexy Benaim's vocal stylings bears an unmistakable similarity to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (most notably on Niagara Falls.) Unfortunately, Benaim is too self-conscious to let his voice unravel into the wailing devil-may-care cavalcade that made CYHSY so memorable. Instead, Harlem Shakes maintain a consistent sort of pleasant harmlessness.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Although Sunlight may be a bit hard to stomach, most songs stay on the appealing side of catchy. TFO and Strictly Game are the obvious standouts, but there are many redeeming moments found throughout the record. Though it feels like the young band is still trying to find a distinctive sound, the Harlem Shakes manage to stay genuine. It's a tough world out there, especially with the obstinate economic crisis still looming. But when Benaim sings "This will be a better year" over kicking drums, not only do we want to shake it, we want to believe him. - Nina Mashurova