Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health (* * * *)

While the name Harlem Shakes, along with the band's current lineup, may be new, singer Lexy (I can seriously not find last names anywhere) and drummer Brent have been making music together for some time now. With the addition of Kendrick on keyboards, Jose on Bass, and Todd on guitar, the group is getting off to a hot start with their full-length debut, Technicolor Health, due out next week. Their indie-pop sound, infused with bits of jazz, soul, and Latin rhythms, turned some heads back in 2007 when the band released an EP, and now Harlem Shakes continue to impress with another selection of catchy, hook-filled tunes.

The first two tracks alone make Technicolor Health worth your time. Opener "Nothing But Change Part II" begins with a slightly funky verse before exploding into a soulful, group-shouted chorus with charging horns and hand claps that lift the song skyward. The first single, "Strictly Game," follows suit, starting in a wash of fuzz and both programmed and live drums that soon becomes a frenetic mess of instruments under Lexy singing lines like "I'm sick of these sheep, I'm sick of vile shepherds, sick of dressing like a human when I'm feeling like a leopard" that he makes sound almost profound with his earnest delivery. My other personal favorite moment is during the latter half of "Natural Man," when the track blazes through a retro-influenced refrain with layers of vocal harmony. Throughout the record, the band never rest, constantly switching time signatures and tempos, adding quirky instrumental embellishments, and simply playing their hearts out for the entire 37 minutes. Occasionally their eagerness gets the best of them, but the songs are consistently strong and always at least entertaining.

While the album was influenced, in large measure, by the difficulties the band experienced collectively and individually leading up to the time of recording, Technicolor Health has an optimistic, sunny sound that feels more hopeful than dejected. The appropriately titled "Sunlight" has a bright, warm edge with plenty of guitars and more witty lyricism, while the slightly relaxed "Unhurried Hearts" and "Winter Water" use groovy rhythms and background vocals (oohs, ahhs, nananas etc.) for some particularly pop moments. The closer and title track is probably the most radical stylistic departure here, a relatively low-key electro-pop song with a hazy, filtered sound, but as packed with ideas as the ten songs are, the music usually feels focused.

Harlem Shakes may not be, and may not want to be, the Vampire Weekend of 2009, but I imagine this debut will at least push them more fully into the spotlight they deserve. Technicolor Health is a great record and a lot of fun, and if there's any justice in the world, Harlem Shakes should soon become a familiar name in the indie scene.

Download "Strictly Game" from the band's website!


Javier said...

José Soegaard - Bass
Lexy Benaim - vocals
Kendrick Strauch - keyboard
Brent Katz - drums
Todd Goldstein - guitar

enjoy life!