Music

Harlem Shakes: Technicolor Health

Photo: Andrew Droz Palermo

Hopeful hooks and high harmonies combined with witty wordplay and world rhythms backed up by an irresistible energy create complex pleasure-pop.


Harlem Shakes

Technicolor Health

Label: Gigantic
US Release Date: 2009-03-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
Website
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Harlem Shakes' 2007 Burning Birthdays EP was a brief but brilliant sampling of sunny, sure-footed pop that promised plenty of possibilities for this Brooklyn-based band. Now, a year and a half later, all that potential pays off on the group's first full-length, Technicolor Health.

"Nothing But Change Part II" opens the album in a fevered frenzy of pop parts held together by Lexy Benaim's slyly clever lyrics and an obvious abundance of exuberance all around. Hand claps and high harmonies carry along on joyful rhythms and frenetic beats. Encapsulated in this one song is everything you need to know about this band and this album, and it's all here to encourage, or perhaps compel, further listening. Every element exists to ensure each time you hear it you'll want to hear it again. Harlem Shakes releases musical endorphins here, and the enthusiasm is irresistible. "One down and nine to go," crows Benaim near the end, reminding us this is still only the first track!

"Strictly Game" incorporates a Latin rhythm and a cautiously hopeful outlook as the hook declares, "This will be a better year". This is the sort of song that becomes the soundtrack of a summer -- if not an entire year -- like "Float On" or "Wake Up". The irrepressible optimism, combined with the addictive accessibility of the arrangement, virtually guarantees this will be impossible to get out of your head. But that's okay, because you won't want to as certain syncopated lyrics lift you with its simplicity:

"Make a little money

Take a lot of shit

Feel real bad

Then get over it

This will be a better year."

Technicolor Health, recorded with Chris Zane (The Walkmen, White Rabbits), boasts some impressive guest collaborators: Stuart Bogie (a contributor to TV on the Radio and Antibalas, among others), Jon Natchez (of Beirut) and Kelly Pratt (also of Beirut and a touring member of the Arcade Fire). The band cites Randy Newman and Carlos Santana as influences on Technicolor Health, and both can be heard, respectively, in the witty word play and world rhythms. Despite the obvious song-crafting skills the Shakes share with those two, the dynamic delivery actually sells these songs.

Like so many of the tracks on this album, "TFO" is an exercise in escalating tension and euphoric release. It comes on, climbs up and builds until it bursts into thunderous percussion, torrents of bright, colorful keys and surges of sharp, slashing guitars. "We got time to waste some time / We got time to waste some time, now" sounds almost profound when surrounded by this sort of musical complexity.

"Niagara Falls" has the forceful, forward-rushing quality its name evokes, complete with a rippling cascade of a piano melody. A swelling swoop of guitar echoes in the vocal phrasing, which likewise brings to mind the picturesque place name. There's something so seductive about a song where every element, even the title, is engineered to add to the overall effect. "Sunlight", another sprightly pop gem, makes the most of the connotations inherent in its title, and it does so with warm, radiant tones and a sparkling Leslie speaker-like effect on the keyboards.

"Natural Man" is all shimmering harmonies and shout-along chorus, but then, that also might be said of most of the songs here. There's not a bad one in the bunch, but along with "Strictly Game," "Natural Man" is a natural favorite. "Radio Orlando" stands out, too, courtesy of its chiming choral of guitars that twine and turn upon each other. Technicolor Health closes with the title track, and though it's more of a slow burner, it still fires on all fronts. A heartbeat rhythm and shining sustain-soaked guitars swell with such a feel-good vibe, the listener gets carried out on a wave of glowing goodwill that has been growing across all ten tracks. Technicolor Health is as bright and vital as the title implies. With Harlem Shakes on the case, the prognosis for the future of pop looks positively rosy.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image