Harlem answers the unasked question of what Vampire Weekend would sound like if they’d been obsessed with ’60s Brit Garage Pop, Buddy Holly and The Modern Lovers instead of a preppy vision of Pavement, or maybe The Strokes if they’d come from urban roots in an environment with actual garages.
In fact, even though they’ve taken their name from one of New York City’s most celebrated creative neighborhoods, Harlem hails from the music Mecca of Austin, Tex., where their early singles and full-length debut Free Drugs (including the irresistibly titled and perfectly executed “Psychedelic Tits”) attracted the attention of Matador Records, which has just released the trio’s sophomore album, Hippies, to fairly consistent acclaim.
There’s a certain laconic indifference in Harlem’s presentation, approximating the nodding result of a White Stripes rehearsal after a jug of Nyquil fruit punch.
On Hippies, Harlem gets its sound garage sale clean — not enough to have labored over it, just enough to sell it. The threesome (Michael Coomers and Curtis O’Mara on guitar, vocals and drums; Jose Boyer on bass) offers up a reverbed vibe that cruises the tension between ’60s Surf Pop innocence and contemporary Garage Punk cynicism, a crossroad collision between early Pretty Things, The Kinks, The Standells, The Black Lips and Pixies.
Of course, in the studio, Harlem tends to come off a little swingier and groovier, while their stage presentation raises considerably more blisters from heat and friction. That fact leads to a relatively simple conclusion: Lace up your dancing sneakers, load up on deodorant and vitamins and get ready for an unrelenting and visceral tour of the world’s great garages, because Harlem is amped up and ready for action.
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