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Harlem - Hippies

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Artist: Harlem

Album: Hippies

Label: Matador

Review date: May. 19, 2010

The name of the band, the name of this record, the fact they named their last one Free Drugs — these guys clearly are making an effort to provoke.

Aside from the cheekiness, and despite the raw production, most of the 16 songs on Hippies are well-groomed little constructions. The tricks and treats are pulled from the same toolbox as the first 16 tracks on Beatles #1. If this is a garage punk band, it’s not dark garage punk. There’s some fuzz solos and minor chords. More often, their rubbery sense of rhythm lets them weave voices alongside the snappy patterns. And like the early Fab Four, the best tracks twist through more parts than expected, building to head-shaking peaks.

There are bands who can’t pull off subtle turns like these, and they make up for it with momentum. Harlem’s melodies don’t allow for plowing straight at the listener, so they have the opposite challenge – to keep the momentum going. It’s here the the unvarying low-budget tone works against them. The last few songs jump through a country riff, a shuffle, some blues and surf, as if they know they got to break things up, and hit with a with a bunch of quickies. Hippies ends up a long listen, even if track for track there’s solid hooks.

While a band like this doesn’t need strings and horns, the undercooked recording of strong songs like "Tila and I" and "Number One" detracts from them. It’s just lo-fi enough that you have to make some effort to hear them right, and not fuzzy enough to make them cut. And the point of this kind of music is to make it effortless.

By Ben Donnelly

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