March 18th, 2009 | Album reviews

Download: Harlem “South Of France”


(from Free Drugs ; – ) on Female Fantasy)

Free Drugs ; – ) is Harlem’s first album and getting raves. Here’s one more. Harlem has been moving around the country the past few years and I think the isolation of being too cool for town has done them well. They aren’t easy to pin down. By the end of the first track “witchgreens,” you’ve already taken a mad train out from the swamp and whoo-hooed your way back. They switch it up—and tighten it up—with “Caroline,” where they string you along with no-pretense pop and sneak up with an unexpected punch for the hook. It’s primitive, well written and distinctly not garage—something people who never heard Teen Suicides (Coomers’ previous band) call Harlem a lot. A three-piece now after starting as a duo, they are (deceptively) simple but never once seem intentionally so. Each song has what it needs without the extra flash or overused earmarks that identify it with the “new old sound” everybody loves or hates so much. Harlem really sounds like they could care less, thank Bob. “South of France” is my favorite. It’s slinky, sleazy and self-righteous in its druggy haze. Leading up to an endlessly singable chorus and climactic breakdown, it’s the best song the Pixies never wrote—with help from the Jacobites. If this sounds a little all over the place, maybe you’re starting to get the theme here. The most consistent thing throughout the album are ability and energy—two things Harlem has in spades. I’ve read “Think I’m Thinkin Bout” sounds like the Cramps, but that’s all wrong. I don’t know what it sounds like. It’s the first of a few (GREAT!) mellower, sweeter songs, one of which is about Lee from thee Makeout Party. After that, they get a dirty swagger with “Little Black Cowboy” and a painfully urgent dilaudid rush with “Red Herring” before ending with the haunted, bluesish “Hundred Dollar a Night Man,” which tramples a few different feels before fucking itself off. Free Drugs : – ) doesn’t stumble, even with Coomers and Curtis switching off vocals and instruments song to song. It has a natural lived-in feel that I like to think comes from them all bein’ pals and having fun and not rushing anything. The songs themselves develop organically—familiar but unique to themselves—and the album holds together well. Despite its many surprises and changes, Free Drugs : – ) comes across like something you’ve been waiting for—or maybe already heard but can’t really remember. Lovely in a dope-induced white fog sort of way. P.S. They’re blowing up so get the album and act like you know.

—Dan Bush

Harlem’s Free Drugs ; – ) out now on Female Fantasy.