One of the most wonderful things about garage rock is its inherent sense of brevity. It’s a world where three-chords are cause for a celebration because logic dictates that two-chords is surely enough for any decent rock song. And why waste time on overdubs when the effort of merely rewinding the tape would take thirty seconds away from getting started on rolling tape for a new song?
Harlem, a three-piece garage band from Austin, certainly subscribes too much of the genre’s basic points-and there are more than a few fine examples of their Nuggets devotion on their sophomore effort, Hippies. But like many young Americans, they should go back and study the source material to find out when it’s appropriate to shut the fuck up.
I could be wrong, but I think I remember reading that you can fit close to a half-hour on one side of a long player. When you take a look at some of those garage gems from the mid-60s, I’d bet that some of the best examples barely cracked the thirty-minute mark for both sides total.
The running time of Hippies is around forty minutes—that’s 10 more minutes than these youngsters really needed. And its 10 more minutes of opportunity to sour my enthusiasm and think of all of the really good albums that you should check out before these jabber jaws.
It’s not about attention spans; it’s about adhering to the spirit of garage rock. You may have the homegrown recording down, the after-school arrangements, and barely competent performances, but if you’re not able to negotiate a dozen or less tracks for your full-length platter, then it’s time to Meet The Beatles.
Because I swear I heard some really good tunes on the first half of Hippies, but by the time the half-hour mark approached, I’d already forgotten them.
On spins two and three, I began to take note. The opener “Someday Soon” is a gem with the wicked middle finger: “Someday soon you’ll be on fire / And you’ll ask me for a glass of water / And I’ll say no / You can just let that shit burn.” “Friendly Ghost” and the leadoff single “Gay Human Bones” are also well-deserving repeats, and there are about eight other tracks that would probably grow in stature with subsequent splays.
But sixteen cuts of minimalist pop tend to dilute the overall potency of Hippies. They’ve done an admirable job of keeping things simple in this world of clutter, but Harlem’s ultimate distraction is their failure to keep things short.
Video: Harlem – “Gay Human Bones”
Video: Harlem – “Friendly Ghost”