You’ve heard it before: the thin, reverb-heavy recording; the erratic tempos; the thundering floor toms; the disaffected vocals buried under trebly, ham-fisted guitar chords. Harlem, an Austin trio by way of Tucson, worships at the altar of garage rock, and at first listen, there doesn’t seem to be much to brand them a notch above the thousands of other like-minded revivalists. Yet slowly the band’s charms come into focus. On Hippies (Matador), their second album, they find an urgent, Kinks-like (or Shins-like, for those of you under forty) jangle and stick with it, pounding out sixteen largely unarranged two-minute rockers. Front men Michael Coomers and Curtis O’Mara constantly swap guitar and drum duties, which reinforces the record’s wide-ranging variety. “Number One” is gleeful punk pop; “Spray Paint” boasts a rockabilly snarl. There are a few surprises hidden beneath all the willful primitivism—Jose Boyer’s unusually melodic bass lines, for instance, and some unexpected chord changes on “Torture Me” (even if the guitar barrels right through them). Hippies is at once hooky, sloppy, and endearing (some overdubs sound as if they were done without listening to playback), and though the energy dissipates in the back half, there’s plenty here to enjoy. The slightest production tweak or, you know, tuning could have transformed “Be Your Baby” or “Friendly Ghost” into a bona fide radio hit. But that’s not Harlem, at least not yet. In the meantime, Hippies is a delightful throwback.
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