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July 19, 2014 / bloggenstatt

My least defensible favorite album

I absolutely love Hippies by Harlem. It was released in 2010 by a band whose most notable achievement is either opening for Jack White’s side project, The Dead Weather or an incredibly entertaining Twitter account. Still, Harlem’s 2010 release, Hippies, is one of my most listened to albums of all time. It’s also probably the least defensible album among the ranks of my other favorite albums. Hippies is not a transcendental album, and it was made by a band almost no one has heard of.

Harlem is a trio from Austin, Texas by way of Tuscon, Ariz. They tend to to produce fuzzed-out pieces of garage rock with scuzzy lyrics, confrontational titles and incredibly catchy hooks. Harlem have released two albums and an EP–Free Drugs, Hippies and LSD Saves, respectively. According to Wikipedia and Twitter, the band is on indefinite hiatus to the my, and other weirdos’, chagrin

Of Harlem’s three releases only Hippies was reviewed widely enough to generate a metacritic page. The album, which was released by Matador generally well-received, Songs were praised for their effective hooks and comedic sensibilities. It received criticism for its 18-song running length and for a handful of songs that are essentially only a repeated chorus.

Hippies is certainly guilty on all charges. The majority of the songs are simple, quirky deconstructions of dysfunctional relationships. Any vitriol tends to come off as incorrigibly mischievous instead of malicious. Lyrics reference immolation of an ex, drug use, Casper the Ghost and make good use of the occasional curse word. Every song is also simple and catchy enough to make the album an inadvertent singalong. The songs will be wedged in your head, and the sparse arrangement is begging for another voice.

Of course, it is also true that Hippies contains 18 songs. None of these songs runs much longer than three minutes. Hippies fits on a single CD, but it is sort of an approximation of what a Ramones’ double album effort might be like, but with a greater folk influence. 18 songs hellbent on beating their way into your skull and then abruptly ending. I’m a fan of this quality, but there is definitely a feeling that maybe the band could have done more with less. A tight, 13-song album would definitely contain all of Hippies‘ highlights, and it would still display the band’s bottomless reservoir of garage rock ear worms. However, the album never entirely wears out its welcome given the brevity of the tracks themselves. Also, considering Harlem’s dearth of material, there has been time to get to know every song on Hippies extensively.

Ultimately, this is an imperfect album. Its songs certainly aren’t cerebral, and there sure are a lot of them. Still, in my opinion it is undeniably great despite these minor flaws. It’s a collection of garage rock and punk songs. The irreverent lyrics are more clever than they need to be and the musical arrangements sound much prettier than they mean to. There’s just the right amount of feedback and roughness around the edges of Hippies to capture the scuzz a band called Harlem desired without taking away from the stellar tunes. All in all, Hippies is an awesome collection of songs from a quasi-existent band, and it’s definitely worth a listen. Just don’t be surprised when you find yourself revisiting its warm tones.

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