Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 9 a.m.
Release date: April 6
Whatever happened to the 10-inch record? Do they still make those things? I always thought they were a great way to listen to music because they had no room for filler. I've got some killer 10-inches by Pavement, The Drags, Urge Overkill, Lazy Cowgirls, Cheap Trick, The Clash, and others.
This new band called Harlem really should've put out a 10-inch instead of a full-length CD. The Austin garage-pop duo has exactly six phenomenal songs -- too many for a 7-inch and not enough for a long-player -- but they are surrounded by 10(!) others on their Matador Records debut. Unless you're releasing the next Being There, White Album, or London Calling, you don't need 16 goddamn songs on your record.
My first thought upon listening to Harlem was: "Why is this band on Matador, pretty much the gold-standard record label of indie rock for nearly two decades?" Sure, these songs are fairly catchy and loose and filled with dark humor, and the band seems kind of charming in its look-at-us!-we-can-barely-keep-this-thing-together shtick. And don't get me wrong, garage-y stuff is very near and dear to my heart, but Harlem is merely satisfactory and nothing special.
Then it hit me on track five, "Be Your Baby": The suits at Matador gathered around the conference table and said, "You know what? We need our very own Black Lips on this label?"
And now they have one -- right down to the ambiguously offensive band name, the vaguely ironic album title that hints at the vaguely ironic "flower punk" descriptor, and a bunch of jangly, mid-fi, Nuggets-inspired pop tunes.
Even though Black Lips' last record, 200 Million Thousand, wasn't too good, that band still has a lot more going on than does Harlem. In other words, BL is the real thing, and Harlem is the cheap knock-off, cash-in attempt.
I can't write off Harlem (just like I couldn't write off Battlestar Galactica, even though it was a cheap attempt to cash in on Star Wars) because there are some strong moments on Hippies. Here's hoping they grow into their own band with their next release. And, Matador? I expect better of you. For shame.
Best song: "Torture Me," the only time on the whole record when Harlem really cuts loose.
Deja Vu: Dozens of bands I've seen over the past 15 years.
I'd rather listen to: Supercharger, who perfected the formula in the mid-'90s with Goes Way Out! and then walked away from it.
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.
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