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.
To be fair, comparing the material on Hippies, Harlem's debut, to the band's earlier singles shows that the group seems to be making a more concerted effort to make its songs sound like songs. Perhaps surprisingly, that detracts a little bit from Harlem's off-the-cuff charm. "Beautiful and Very Smart" has a few guitar licks that are inaudible on the actual recording of the song, but that kind of professional sloppiness feels in keeping with the band's spirit. They've cleaned that up a bit on Hippies, but in some instances it's worth missing.
But this is from a band whose first single from Hippies is entitled "Gay Human Bones." So no, they haven't abandoned their glib insouciance altogether; the album is painted with it, even if the work is a little tighter sonically. The record's simple melodies and plain-spoken lyrics just make it sound like Harlem has gotten a lot better at charmingly half-assing music, an admirable ability, indeed.
Unfortunately, none of the album's otherwise reasonably memorable tracks quite stands out. A single isn't released; it's born. The album has no song that truly feels like a single, and thus no particularly strong cuts ground the album. The members of Harlem would likely shrug off that assessment -- and, true to the feel of lackadaisical jubilation throughout Hippies, they'd maybe be right.
Austin-by-way-of-Tucson garage rock trio Harlem follow up their 2009 debut, Free Drugs, with Hippies, their first release on Matador Records. Building on the lo-fi 50's garage revival sound established on their previous record, Hippies is a tighter, more calculated affair with catchier riffs and singsong choruses.
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