Hard to believe a band from Arizona could sound like this. Jangly pop songs, shrouded in the post-punk, DIY rock basics of a loud-mouthed guitar, bass and drums. Since moving from Arizona to Austin, Texas, Harlem has certainly raised their stock, catching the attention of many bloggers (both in the States and internationally) as well as playing at several big music festivals and finally signing a multi-record international deal with Matador Records. But with great hype comes great responsibility, and their first major label release, Hippies, has a lot riding on it.
With that in mind, there’s a moment at the beginning of the record when the listener has to realize (almost simultaneously) that Harlem is both too cool for its own good and really, REALLY young. “Someday soon you’ll be on fire/and you’ll ask me for a glass of water/I’ll say no/you can just let that shit burn”. These lyrics just chomp at the bit along with the accompanying barebones, wire-thin garage rock and make for quite a first impression. The next track is even better; “I live in a graveyard!” shouts Michael Coomers over rollicking drums and an eventual burst of fuzzy guitars and a bass that just won’t quit.
At no point throughout the record is there an attempt to diverge from this formula of youthful excitement/aggression, minimal arrangements and fun, silly songwriting. Lines like “I just wanna be your baby/I don’t mean maybe/I just wanna be your baby” aren’t original, or even that good, and they’re sung over laughably-basic chord progressions; but coupled with hazy, underdeveloped production and a devil-may-care attitude, it absolutely nutshells some of the best aspects of a rock ‘n roll album.
And really, what’s on display here is not necessarily this specific batch of sixteen songs, but Harlem’s ability to make something great in the not-too-distant future. It wouldn’t be a huge shocker, once the afterglow of the carefree punk-rocker lifestyle and a few character-building years have passed them by, to see Harlem pick up the torch and start churning out some high-quality artistic LPs. In the meantime, those who don’t sicken quickly of energetic, repetitive three-chord rock will have a lot to love.