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Album Review

by Harlem


Review Date
Reviewed by
Lukas Clark-Memler

“The only band we like is Nirvana. The only album we like is Nevermind. The only song we like is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” These are the words of Harlem, a 3-piece Austin based outfit that take the term garage rock as literally as possible.

Harlem is the passion project of Michael Coomer and Curtis O'Mara – Tucson natives who migrated to the live music capital of the world: Austin, Texas. The two comrades have been playing together since adolescence and therefore have developed a unique synergy. Coomer and O'Mara equally divide songwriting credits and instrumentation on Hippies, their second album but first for Matador, and the fine line of this balancing act makes for an intricate and engaging listen.

Hippies is indisputably a record based in the past. Over the course of the album, and through the range of bygone styles and genres, we realise that we are witnessing the evolution of rock music on this lo-fi sleeper of a record. From Chicago blues (“Stripper Sunset”), to 60s surf-pop (“Number One”), to Buddy Holly-esque power ballads (“Be Your Baby”), to thrashy punk (“Friendly Ghost”), to a sugar-coated rendition of grunge masterpiece “Lithium” (“Gay Human Bones”) - Harlem has merged the shambolic history of rock into a concise album format. And yet there is something distinctly less threatening about the rock-influenced songs on this record. It is almost as if the original intensity and motive has been extracted, in favour of something fun and easy to dance to.

The record teems with frenetic energy, the truculence of youth and a brash lack of subtlety. The end result is a raucous, wild and exhausting listening experience. Harlem achieves this by throwing everything they’ve got into each song and creating an exceptionally contagious 40-minute collection of tracks. By increasing the number of songs and decreasing track length, Harlem has successfully created the perfect album for this generation of listeners; short songs that pack a punch, and enough of a varied theme to keep one interested.

At the end of the day, Hippies is a no-frills garage-rock record that is fun and energetic, and the utter lack of pretence is a breath of fresh air in this era of overproduced corporate drivel. It is true that their sound may not be completely original, and that the album may not flow seamlessly, but this doesn’t detract from the listening experience. At its core, Hippies is a celebration of 50-plus years of rock music, distilled to its natural essence – so appreciate it for that if nothing else.

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