released March 30th
When the Afro-Pop guitar chords, rickety drums, and wavering vocals fill your headphones at the start of Technicolor Health, you can’t help but to feel a bit wary of the Harlem Shakes. You can’t help but to wonder if the hype was undeserved, if this is a Vampire Weekend or Born Ruffians knock-off band, if you’ve heard this all before. Fortunately, you can’t help but to be wrong.
Because pretty soon, the horns kick in, the falsetto kicks in, and the distinct sound of the Harlem Shakes takes over.
Technicolor Health kicks off with three stellar tracks, begging “In The Flowers/My Girls/Also Frightened” and “Make Light/Little Secrets/Moth’s Wings” to make room for a new kick-ass 1-2-3 punch. Opener “Nothing But Change Part II” contains the aforementioned horns and pep, a perfect introduction to the sound of the Shakes. Lead singer Lexy Benaim’s vocals are immediately brought to your attention; he has some warbling, frenetic, but powerful pipes. Track number two is the internet favorite, “Strictly Game,” with the simple-but-clever lyrics that the Shakes so frequently utilize on full display: “This will be a better year, this will be a better year, make a little money, take a lot of shit, feel real bad, then get over it.” And that (slightly) optimistic refrain is followed by the more upbeat “TFO,” one of my personal faves on the album. From the recurring “oo-oos” to the sheer, unexpected passion in Benaim’s voice, “TFO” is a phenomenal song that only gets better with repeated listens.
[audio=http://pmatunes.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/01-nothing-but-change-part-ii.mp3,_Harlem Shakes - Nothing But Change Part II,download]
Throughout these brilliant three opening tracks, the Harlem Shakes show off their immense versatility. “Strictly Game” is a downer, but one that conveys the sense of optimism. “Nothing But Change” is simple and catchy, but also epic and layered. And “TFO” has all the aforementioned features blended together.
This versatility continues to show throughout Technicolor Health, an album that seems from it’s coming from a band at the top of its game, when in reality it’s a fantastic debut full-length for a band that will only get better. Blending that phenomenal mix of optimism and melancholy, it features straightforward pop songs that can stand alone remarkably well, but also flow into the greater whole of the album. “Sunlight” bops forward with clanging drums and breathless energy. More clever lyrics are abound: “I had a coat of many colors, sold it off online.”
[audio=http://pmatunes.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/05-sunlight.mp3,_Harlem Shakes - Sunlight,download]
Technicolor Health‘s true triumph is its ability to project the sunny, power-pop feel throughout without getting repetitive. Being only ten songs short is a big help in accomplishing this feat. Also a help- the nicer ballads that help round out the band’s sound. “Unhurried Hearts” and “Niagara Falls” both show off the lighter side of the Shakes, one with absolutely gorgeous “ohs” and “ahs” and the other with catchy piano melodies
[audio=http://pmatunes.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/04-niagra-falls.mp3,_Harlem Shakes - Niagara Falls,download]
Since the Shakes can truly rock out, however, the more upbeat the tracks, the better. “Winter Water” is the standout, an eclectic example of Cold War Kids rawness and soul. “Radio Orlando” is more low-key (although it’s fuzzed-out horns opening wouldn’t suggest that), but still a layered, beautiful track with group harmonies out of Grizzly Bear’s playbook. Once the upbeat instrumentals give way to the vocals by themselves, it’s tailor-made for a Scrubs episode-ending montage.
[audio=http://pmatunes.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/09-radio-orlando.mp3,_Harlem Shakes - Radio Orlando,download]
Health is not a flawless record- two of the last three songs (“Natural Man” and the titular, closing track) are fine, but lacking the effortless bounciness of the other tracks. But a debut full-length is not expected to be perfect- we should just be happy the Shakes got this close.
This review is one that comes pretty late- Technicolor Health was released way back in March. But it’s almost fitting to give it this deserved praise on this, the first week of June. With their sunny guitar chords, mix of melancholy and optimism, and ridiculously catchy hooks, the Harlem Shakes may have crafted the soundtrack to your summer.
To enter to win a copy of Harlem Shake’s Technicolor LP, leave a comment with your thoughts on the tracks you’ve just previewed, live show experience, and/or this review. Make sure you leave your name/email address in the provided fields! Entries will be accepted until June 9th