Matador’s got Austin fever, and who can blame them? Fucking great town, everyone’s way more concerned about their art projects than working for the man, and there are tons of places to buy records and good tacos. What’s not to love? The music scene’s dandy too, the iceberg’s tip of which Matador scratched with their Casual Victim Pile compilation (on the guitar tip). Now one of the bands on that compilation, the garage duo Harlem, is getting called up to the big time, releasing its debut album on the same label that was home to the Fall and Jay Reatard.
The band deal with the pressure admirably, staying slack as fuck and shambolic but really relentlessly pursuing their own skewed vision of beauty. I like how Harlem pulls off the whole, “not even fucking trying too hard thing” almost conscientiously, staying true garage rock believers in the pop and hiss and muffled guitar chime, but adding twists and turns and essential weirdness. To that end, they throw in bits of Daniel Johnston earnestness, splashes of doo wop inspired vocal harmonies (and great falsetto), and hints of old rockabilly. It’s a propulsive mess, and if the first few songs sound a little too much like Girls, well, don’t worry too much because about four or five songs in, Harlem really stakes out its own identity. Hippies has it all — airy lovelorn ballads, switchblade-ready cavestomp, Syd Barret-y craziness, and entropic noise. Throughout, songs about friendly ghosts and three-legged dogs (heh) give the album a frazzled, innocent quality like a Syd Barrett or a Roky Erickson that keeps it comfortingly “other.” Keep Austin Weird, y’know.