Young, emerging guitar rock bands are lately investing a lot of thought and time into ensuring that their pop music is as steeped in fuzz and scuzz as possible. Harlem are an Austin three-piece that opt out of messing with fuzz pedals and wear their grime on their sleeve instead. You might say they rub some people the wrong way. Their first record's title, Free Drugs, was punctuated with the following, ironically placed emoticon: ;-) Their band name doesn't do them any favors with the more politically correct.
In 2010, Austin, TX was one of the hippest places on earth. Matador’s Casual Victim Pile was a fine document of the noisy indie rock scene there, and one of the standout groups on the record was Harlem. The ramshackle energy and goofy attitude they brought to their featured song “Beautiful & Very Smart” carries over to the songs on their second album, Hippies.
The Austin band Harlem has been described as "punk" before, but even a genre as closely associated with flouting conventions as punk has some kind of criteria. Harlem's lazy garage-pop jams are so brash and snotty that they don't really seem capable of adhering to even the most basic of genre standards, especially ones that belong to a very purposeful type of music. From the sound of it, it seems as if the only purpose Harlem's music could achieve consistently is to stave off boredom long enough to stop the band members from setting things on fire.
“The only band we like is Nirvana. The only album we like is Nevermind. The only song we like is Smells Like Teen Spirit." No, this is not an obituary for a delusional albeit loyal Nirvana fan that took his own life after realising that Kurt Cobain was never coming back. And this isn’t even the press release for a Nirvana tribute band that stubbornly refuse to learn, or write any other song, in fear of selling out and dishonouring the aforesaid grunge legends.
If you’re into lo-fi garage rock, well then you are just sitting pretty these days. There’s plenty of it out there, and it’s getting all kinds of attention. But while the attention will eventually fade, shifting to another fleeting interest in some other sound, you’ve got to admit that a lot of bands—Black Lips, Happy Birthday, Golden Triangle, Girls, and plenty others—have made the most of their time in the sun, releasing solid records that, at their best, sound earnest and succeed on their own terms, even if they happen to fall in line with a trend.
Zooming by in a blur of imperceptible lyrics and jangly guitar hooks, Hippies is the kind of inconsequential romp that feels like a much shorter album than it actually is, though this expediency suggests a trifling weightlessness more than concentrated pop bliss. Yet the album, nearly instantly forgettable and without doing much of note, works despite this frothiness. Simply put, Harlem manages to pull off a lot of annoying things at once, from the setup irreverence of strangely unsavory ironic titles (“Gay Human Bones,” “Cloud Pleaser”) to the visible chunks of other bands’ sounds floating in the broth.
Harlem don’t want your brains – they want your shoes, the dancing kind. Mike Diver 2010 We live in an age where NME readers – those who vote on the magazine’s website – consider junior space cadet Matt Bellamy, front-man of embarrassingly earnest proggers Muse, the greatest lyricist in rock music. An age where commercial indie has been irreversibly intellectualised through the success of Arctic Monkeys, revealing most other would-be social commentators with guitars – step forward, The Enemy – for the awful bands they actually are.
Harlem are a little late to the party. Last year’s most blogged about ‘scene’ was the unlikely (and surprisingly inventive) unison of indie pop jangle and slimy, somewhat sarcastic, surf rock. It brought us the balmy likes of Girls, Best Coast, and Washed Out – all low-rent, electrified, and all strangely danceable. Harlem’s Matador debut Hippies was recorded in the middle of last year’s summer and it shows – the album invokes the same steam-fringed quintessence and glassy-eyed demeanor that trampled music publications last year, singing about the usual rigmarole of drugs, girls, and heartbreak.