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Music

Harlem: Hippies

The latest group in the recent garage rock boom, Harlem's focus on the melody, and not the formless static, might be what makes them stand out from that big crowd.


Harlem

Hippies

US Release: 2010-04-06
Label: Matador
UK Release: 2010-04-26
Label Website
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iTunes

If you're into lo-fi garage rock, well then you are just sitting pretty these days. There's plenty of it out there, and it's getting all kinds of attention. But while the attention will eventually fade, shifting to another fleeting interest in some other sound, you've got to admit that a lot of bands -- Black Lips, Happy Birthday, Golden Triangle, Girls, and plenty others -- have made the most of their time in the sun, releasing solid records that, at their best, sound earnest and succeed on their own terms, even if they happen to fall in line with a trend.

Add to that list the Austin, Texas outfit Harlem. Hippies, their second record and first for Matador, is a vibrant burst of hazy guitars and pleading shouts. Michael Coomer and Curtis O'Mara deftly share frontman duties, as the two shift -- live and on record -- between the drum kit and the guitar seamlessly. While they bounce back and forth, newly added bassist Jose Boyer gives these songs a heft that keeps them from floating away into the arena of bratty whining.

What makes Harlem's sound work, and keeps it just distinctive enough, is the band's attention to melody. While everything here is coated in a cheap gauze, giving the album an effective haze, neither Coomer nor O'Mara rely on shouting for cheap, brash emotion. Sure, there's an edge to their singing at times. But on standout tracks like "Someday Soon" and "Gay Human Bones" there's more of a croon than a bleat to their voices. It works over the warm, overcast hum of the guitars here, which also strays away from thick distortion, settling instead for a nice middle ground between a loose jangle and a tight shimmer.

The danger these guys run, along with many of their peers, is making the same sound over and over again. But Harlem try their best to keep some variety in here, and particularly late in the record there are some nice shifts in sound. "Stripper Sunset" has a bluesy deep-end and thick crunch that the other sunburned songs on Hippies don't even approach. The guitars on "Pissed" clear out just a bit of the haze, and let the off-kilter drumming push the song along. "Prairie My Heart" might be the biggest risk here, slowing their sound down into a psychedelic storm cloud, but it works nicely, breaking up the bursting rock with something with a deeper rumble.

Still, Hippies does contain 16 tracks, and it's hard not to hear some repetition in the middle of the record. After eight or nine songs of ringing chords, you might find yourself searching for a clearer hook. And the simple approach the album takes lyrically can be either charming (in the Casper similes of "Friendly Ghost") or a bit too stock to work (like the simple pleading of "Be Your Baby"). But in the end, you can chock the long track list up to zeal, because Harlem gives that off in spades on this album. They don't sound hidden and bored behind all the haze, but instead work their way through it, and in the end offer up a solid record with Hippies. No doubt they're on their way to more attention, now that they're backed by Matador, but it's those moments where they branch out here -- and let those great melodies do the work -- that show their true potential, which might be what keeps them shining even after the fleeting spotlight on their genre fades.

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

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With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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