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Harlem
Hippies Ross Pounds , April 29th, 2010 07:08

Some bands don't need to change their sound. It might be a case of getting as far as you can go with the talent you've got, or a fear of losing the fans you made first time round. Sometimes, though, they just hit the nail on the head straight out of the gate. Harlem are one of those bands. On their self-released 2008 debut Free Drugs the Texan garage punkers honed a simple sound to perfection: chiming guitars, rolling drums, and vague lyrics wrapped tight in a blanket of psychedelic fuzz. They came on like a cross between fellow Deep South warriors Black Lips and legendary garage progenitors the Sonics, combining blown-out jams and sweet-natured, ambling odes to girls like one of those bands you find on obscure 60s surf compilations on Arf! Arf!, half Bel Air Bandits and half the Shoremen, with a dusting of the Human Beings sprinkled on top. If it was fifty years ago, you could imagine them playing to crowds of shrieking teens down at the shack, their tunes blasting out over the counter of some American Graffiti-esque diner in a hyperreal, Baudrillardian world. Back to the present day, and second album Hippies is released. Not much has changed. It's not a bad thing.

Now signed to Matador Harlem have, with Hippies, produced a record that shares many similarities with its predecessor, differing in its slightly more refined sound and marginally better recording quality but retaining all the charming quirks and, most importantly, ear for a hook that made Free Drugs stand out above the myriad other Teenage Shutdown aping bands that littered the stages of SXSW and CMJ that year. It might not be the most cerebral release of 2010, and it's certainly not going to convert any Einstürzende Neubauten fans, but it is top-to-tail full of rolling, fantastically sloppy pop songs. 'Tila and I' and 'Gay Human Bones' are both whip-smart standouts but it's on 'Friendly Ghost' that the Austinites really knock it out of the park. Ostensibly a song about the moon-faced children's favourite Casper, it's a genuine summer hipster anthem in the making, combining the pop smarts and fondness for the nonsensical of the Unicorns with the carefree melodies of the Pixies. It sounds like something Frank Black might have written had he been into paisley and formed a band in 60s Muswell Hill.

The great thing about Hippies is how instantaneous it is. It's not something that needs multiple listens to get into. There's no need to pour over the lyrics and the hidden meanings. It might be sixteen songs long but none of them outstay their welcome, clocking in at an average of somewhere near the two-and-a-half minute mark. While clearly steeped in the ways of Nuggets, Harlem are more concerned with girls and cigarettes, booze and bubblegum pop, capable of churning out delightfully brash and snotty garage-pop snarlers with something approaching reckless abandon. They're a no gimmicks band, unashamedly ready for a party. One gets the sense that if they weren't making records they'd be setting bins on fire or tee-peeing some trees. And there's nothing wrong with that. Hook stacked upon hook stacked upon hook with a beguiling recklessness. Like a modern day version of the Trashmen or the Standells, they're a band after your heart and your feet. And if Hippies doesn't get both of them going you better step back from that jukebox right away.

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