Harlem are a little late to the party. Last year’s most blogged about ‘scene’ was the unlikely (and surprisingly inventive) unison of indie pop jangle and slimy, somewhat sarcastic, surf rock. It brought us the balmy likes of Girls, Best Coast, and Washed Out – all low-rent, electrified, and all strangely danceable. Harlem’s Matador debut Hippies was recorded in the middle of last year’s summer and it shows – the album invokes the same steam-fringed quintessence and glassy-eyed demeanor that trampled music publications last year, singing about the usual rigmarole of drugs, girls, and heartbreak.
Hippies is hardly song focused, the record’s 16 tracks tend to mesh together into a blurry, tape-fueled haze – there aren’t any obvious highlights here. The compositions are expectedly simple; after all we are talking about a DIY-begat three-piece – encompassing a dispersed guitar, bass, drums and occasional piano. We’re also in very basic lyrical territory, relying more on kitsch than texture. “I just wanna be your baby /I don’t mean maybe” they croon over a boomer-crop guitar swing, trying to be wry and ironic while becoming vaguely irking. They try to play do-gooder pop at its most acerbic, but honestly, this sort of 60s-era libretto has been so overworked (especially by sardonic, scuzzed-out hipsters like this band) it only comes off annoying. When Harlem does get serious (a dubious term in this case) we end up with an uninspired humdrum of aimless clangor and squandered drum fills (“Stripper Sunset”) and squelching, meaningless mantras on the most superficial effects of heartsickness.
Harlem are at least musically capable, and while the majority of Hippies is immediately forgettable, a few of the sunnier bits will at least have you tapping your toes – but it comes in such short bursts that you wonder why the band decided to pump the record with 16 tracks. Its 40 minute running time certainly doesn’t do it any favors. Nothing on Hippies is vital, but it could’ve been at least a cornball diversion if it just cut out the water-fat. Unfortunately the album ends up overextended, overworked, and just generally irritating – and it makes you consider the lasting relevance of the current beach-y trend of indie rock.