Harlem Shakes Technicolor Health

[Gigantic; 2009]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: pop-rock, indie
Others: Phoenix, Death Cab For Cutie, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Despite their uncommonly maximalist approach to indie rock, Harlem Shakes’ debut album Technicolor Health is, on the whole, more pedestrian than it feels on first impression. Heavily adorned with all manner of accompaniment — from Klezmer-ish horn sections to beat-up drum machines to flamenco guitars to what sounds like bird calls (at the tail end of Strictly Game) — the songs on Technicolor Health are busy enough to hold even the most chronically short attention spans. At their best, Harlem Shakes mold the musical accoutrement into a unique and uniform whole; too often, however, these touches do little more than gussy-up their middle-of-the-road indie-pop.

Not that the Brooklyn band seems to be lazy or lacking in talent; Technicolor Health is never less than immediate or accessible. The hooks are piled high, one on top of the other, but it can sometimes feel more like pastiche than anything else. The strongest tracks, like the opening combo of "Nothing But Change Part II" and "Strictly Game," raise the bar to an unfair height for any debut record. Those songs gallop and stomp, pulling you into a vivid world that does justice to the album’s gibberish title. The strong first half of Technicolor Health make the weaker back half forgivable; in fact, even the least successful songs, like the title track, evoke pleasant memories of the late ’90s, when it seemed that every mainstream rock band was trying (and failing) to find a way to incorporate electronic elements into their conventional structures. Harlem Shakes have more luck with drum machines than, say, R.E.M., but no amount of Pro Tools effects (or biblical allusions for that matter) can disguise the mediocrity of the songwriting on Technicolor Health.

Harlem Shakes currently appear to be a band whose ambitions outstrip their abilities; they don’t have far to go, and hopefully they’ll be able to close the gap between the two. "Sunlight," one of the clearest standouts on the album, proves that the band is capable of making music that feels unforced and naturally artificial. Other bands have made this transition, from an imaginative un-focus to satisfying and complete-feeling pop music; Phoenix is a perfect example of a band that started with a unique template and worked at bringing the disparate elements together. Harlem Shakes are in their early days and still sound like they are trying a little too hard; it’s an absolutely excusable quality in a young band, if not always endearing. Harlem Shakes have plenty to be proud of; they’ve also got even more to prove the next time around.

1. Nothing But Change Part II
2. Strictly Game
3. TFO
4. Niagara Falls
5. Sunlight
6. Unhurried Hearts (Passaic Pastoral)
7. Winter Water
8. Natural Man
9. Radio Orlando
10. Technicolor Health

Most Read