It’s as if someone asked the band Harlem if there’s a limit to how many pop songs you can fit on one indie album without it becoming cheesy or commercial, and they responded with Hippies as a resounding “no”. On the Austin trio’s Matador debut they supply sixteen songs that sound as if Buddy Holly went outside and rolled around in the mud before taking stage. Hippies is packed with quick, dirty classic pop tunes; a style which allows Harlem to pull off being catchy without entering Top 40 rock radio territory.
From the first lines of opener “Someday Soon”, the lyrics are upfront and candid as Michael Coomers takes the vocal duties and sings:
“Someday soon you’ll be on fire, and ask me for a glass of water/I’ll say nooooo, you can just let that shit burn/And you’ll say please, please, please put me out/I promise not to do it again, whatever I did to you.”
It’s heart-on-sleeve but also a simple insightful reminder that sometimes we don’t even notice when or how we hurt each other.
Other songs like “Be Your Baby” sound like they’re from a band of late 50’s drug addicts who nobody heard of because they terrified uptight record execs. While “Cloud Pleaser” is an ode to the broken-hearted that breaks up the sentimentality with the line, “I wrote you a letter, but didn’t have a stamp/threw it in the garbage can, addressed the tramp.”
At times Harlem does stray from the vintage pop rock realm, with success. “Praise My Heart” is stoner blues if I ever heard it, and “Stripper Sunset” is short but packed with angry jamming .
On the downside, this could all be tough to follow for Harlem. It’s doubtful they could pull off another 16 songs like this without seeming tiresome. Unfortunately with today’s ADD music fans scouring the blogosphere for new bands, they’re quick to find something to hold their attention after growing bored. It will be interesting to see if they progress or become part of the buzz band scrap-heap. Despite any of this, they just don’t seem like the type of guys who care either way.
However, Hippies looks like it will have a long shelf life, at least through my speakers. It’s a fun reminder that as much as we love the complex orchestration of bands like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, there will always be demand for stripped down rock and roll.
— Ian Lewis
Below is a live performance of “Someday Soon” and the video for “Friendly Ghost”.