Harlem is serious about not being taken too seriously. This punky Austin trio debuted last year with the cheeky Free Drugs ;-), a skittish no-fi haze draped over blunt humor ("South of France" opens: "Got in to the south of France and I'm blasting ABBA") and memorable melodies. The band--Michael Coomers and Curtis O'Mara share guitar, vocal, and drum duties while Jose Boyer punches the bass--posses a deadly combo for an anti-power trio: Its members can't be bothered to give a fuck any more than they can hide their pop hooks. Even its series of free download covers--including a sand-blasted take on Royal Trux's sublime "Junkie Nurse" --betrayed their affable mix of exquisite taste and middle-finger attitude.
Hippies, the band's sophomore effort and Matador debut, slightly polishes the band's fuzzy exterior to spotlight its Kinksian sweetness wrapped around deadpan sarcasm. The jangly "Be Your Baby" moves like an innocent '60s love song with the first half of the verse--"I just want to be your baby/ I don't mean maybe"--before mirthfully skipping into the caustic "If I could be your darling/ you've gotta start falling/ For all the bullshit I give you."
It helps that Coomers' reedy voice makes him sound like the nicest live-action role-player at the ice-cream truck. It adds an extra layer of the mordant wit to his everyday ennui. The narrator in the excellent "Torture Me" tells the gal of his affection "I know that there's something evil under your pretty face," even though he hopes she's not getting rid of him today because he's coming to see her. It's a love/hate strain echoed in the chorus when the trio barrels into a rumbling morass as Coomers' asks "Why do you torture me, girl?" with the baleful innocence of a guy wondering why his crush won't dance with him at the sock-hop. That friendly tension might be Harlem's wicked appeal: The music and lyrics sounds Nuggets-era sincere, but they're delivered with knowing insouciance. And when such substantial artifice really comes together--as on the scorching "Stripper Sunset"--Harlem is able to have its fake and eat it, too.