Monday, March 23, 2009

Album: Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health

Technicolor Health
Album: Technicolor Health
Gigantic Music
Rating: ******** (8/10)

I've been pretty excited about the new Harlem Shakes album since I got a copy by e-mail on December 26 - I remember the date because it totally cured my post-holiday blues. And it's finally coming out this week, so I can share it with the rest of you!

Pop masters the Harlem Shakes were on the first bands I wrote about on this blog, on my "Five New York Bands You Should Really Know List" and I told you way back then that they would come back from their year-long hibernation, bigger and better than ever. And here they are!

Since their 2007 EP Burning Birthdays, the Harlem Shakes have opened up their sound. Technicolor Health is much less dense than the EP and the sounds are cleaner. But the off-kilter pop hooks and Lexy Benaim's unique voice are still at the fore, and the cleaned up sound, while maybe packing less of a punch, allows the band's characteristic complex arrangements to shine.

The album opens with two great songs, "Nothing But Change Part II" and "Strictly Game." It slows down slightly, then kicks it into high gear with the bright pop anthem "Sunshine." The second half of the album is as strong as the first, too. "Winter Water" and "Radio Orlando" are among the band's best songs.

It's not all good. Some tracks, like "TFO," fly right over "catchy" and land squarely in "annoying." Others, like "Unhurried Hearts," are ruined by cliched, corny or trite lyrics. Harlem Shakes aren't usually remembered for the lyrics anyway, though - and sometimes, they do get it just right. In "Strictly Game," Benaim rattles off killer lines like "I'm sick of dressing like a human / when I'm feeling like a leopard."

All the songs are meticulously arranged, with vocal parts from all five members (and guests) along with a myriad of instruments and effects. The band seamlessly mixes electronic noise with acoustic and their attention to detail keeps the music interesting - delightful little parts pop in and out and unexpected noises add character to each track.

With Technicolor Health, the Shakes may not be at the cutting edge of music, but they have a distinct sound (thanks largely to Benaim's quirky voice) and an innovative style that makes this album interesting as well as damn fun.

The album is out tomorrow! :: Harlem Shakes on MySpace

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