Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., April 9, 2010
Go ahead and judge Harlem's Hippies by its cover. Two models are dolled up and disguised as the local trio's co-founders, Curtis O'Mara and Michael Coomer, in a barren garage or living room. The Tucson transplants are the slacker antithesis of Lennon/McCartney, occasionally out of tune but never out of sync. O'Mara/Coomer split songwriting credits and instrumentation on Harlem's Matador debut, and the synergy from that balancing act makes for a far more intricate and engaging listen than 2008's introductory Free Drugs. Coomer's punkish sneer suits his more vindictive narratives, like the hipster runoff "Spray Paint," aided by bassist Jose Boyer's spy-movie bassline, and the lo-fi Memphis soul of opener "Someday Soon," which manages to hit a sweet spot even as he croons: "Someday soon you'll be on fire, and you'll ask me for a glass of water. I'll say, 'No, you can just let that shit burn.'" Such moments are immediately offset by O'Mara's more romantic paeans: the fuzz-pop perfection of "Friendly Ghost," 1960s girl-group swooning "Number One," and spirited rave-up "Torture Me." It's not that Coomer doesn't have a soft spot (check bubblegum bop "Be Your Baby" and K Records heartbreaker "Cloud Pleaser"), it just comes with a catch and/or gets lost in analog distortion, as in "Gay Human Bones," which practically unplugs Nirvana. Harlem excels, though, when the two frontmen play to each other's strengths. O'Mara stretches a syllable like it's his last dollar for the opening refrain of "Tila and I," while the latter provides the resolution in the back to mono retread "Three Legged Dog," and Harlem locks in a classic trio power for the maximum R&B of "Stripper Sunset" and "Scare You." With drunken charm and incessant jangle, Hippies may be Harlem's slop-pop consummation.