Harlem Zip Code: Colour World Soul

John Bergstrom

Harlem Zip Code

Colour World Soul

Label: Red Melon
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

Forty years ago, "It has a good beat and you can dance to it" was the highest praise a piece of pop music could receive. Now that pop has been micromanaged into subgenres, nooks, crannies, and Political and Personal and Artistic Statements, the famous American Bandstand phrase seems more like consolation, if not derision.

What if "Johnny B. Goode" had been set to the tune (to use the term loosely) of "Venus in Furs", or "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had had accompaniment akin to, say, Radiohead's "Like Spinning Plates", or even the Beatles' own "Across the Universe"? Popular music has gone some amazing places, for sure. But never underestimate the value of a good ol' backbeat.

This lesson clearly isn't lost on Brits Tony Free and Merlin Garnett, aka Harlem Zip Code. They've been releasing 12" vinyl for years, and debut album Colour World Soul has an effin' great beat, and you can't not dance to it. As for philosophy… when you're having this much fun, who cares?

Colour World Soul takes in a multitude of dance-oriented genres, generally residing in the neighborhood of "house". Soul, though, is the operative word. Free and Garnett don't care about pan-culturalism (although their music is universal), vintage gear (although they use it), or even hit singles (although they might well score some). They just want their audience to shake their booties, and have fun doing it. And, man, are they good at what they do.

There's a small European school devoted to this aesthetic. Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, and Cassius all belong. But while those acts, especially of late, come across like they're trying too hard, Colour World Soul feels effortless.

"Fling Up Your Wig" is as much fun as doing just that -- in the middle of a packed dancefloor. Buoyed by a weightless feel; percussion, vocodered come-ons, some ragga style toasting, it has just enough chord changes to qualify as a hook. It's solidly on the cool, sophisticated side of camp. Deee-Lite may have gotten on to something like this if their heads hadn't gone up their arses.

In case you're wondering whether Colour World Soul is going to be one of those fun but flighty dance records, "Cohiba" blows the house down with a solid 4/4, electro-throbs, and Mali-style percussion. It's like the frenetic final 30 seconds of Doves' "There Goes the Fear", only extended for six minutes and with a backbeat. Irresistible.

Harlem Zip Code offer up such a spoil of riches in these first two cuts that some of what comes after is (only slightly) anti-climactic. The title track and "Angelpoise", for example, can't completely hold your attention, despite some ultra-funky rhythm guitar from Chris Dawkins. Free and Garnett are sharp enough to vary the tempo a bit, though: a pair of stellar R&B-influenced tracks, "Give Me the Truth" and "Feels Like Heaven", feature soulful vocals from Beverly T and Sharon McKoy, respectively. A lil' hip-hop here, a lil' garage there -- it's all good.

The masterstroke, however, is "Sugar Burn". Mixing up all the best elements of P-Funk, Boys Own, and the entire history of Casablanca Records, it's so funky you'll dance to it 10 times before you realize it actually adheres to verse-chorus-verse. And the bassline…that bassline! If Free and Garnett haven't lured Bernard Edwards back from the dead, at the very least they've bottled his spirit and loosed its essence upon the studio.

Ever the gentlemen, they've even included a jazzy, lounge-tastic comedown. "Where Will You Go" gets all Herb Alpert on you -- and he's the man who gave you Biggie's "Hypnotize", remember! Cap it off with the "hidden" blue room headtrip "Proctol", and your Harlem Zip Code experience is complete.

Rate it a solid 93 out of 98.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

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

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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

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