Though the current incarnation of Brooklyn’s Harlem Shakes has only been a band since 2006, they have already built a sterling reputation. Between touring with Deerhoof, Vampire Weekend and Beirut; opening for the likes of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Arctic Monkeys; and following 2007’s sensational Burning Birthdays EP—the band left audiences with an insatiable craving that went unsatisfied up until the release of the band’s debut long player Technicolor Health.
Led by the high pitches of dynamic whiner/crooner frontman Lexy Benaim and powered by Arms architect and guitarist Todd Goldstein, Harlem Shakes have been building a steady following and have received praise from authoritative types like the Village Voice, Time Out NY and The Washington Post to outlets of such journalistic integrity as Playboy and Nylon. As a main ambition, for the Shakes, it’s to make pop music. They do so with a soundscape that features heavy hooks, bubbly keyboards, occasional piano, and a variety of backing vocals (from any of the five members of the band). The songs they create are optimistic, danceable, and infectious to a fault. The lyrics are loveable and sweet, with the Yale-educated Benaim (once singing of crashing his moped, getting drunk at the movies and becoming aroused (hard) easily) continuing to make the most sophomorically charming songs around.
Technicolor Health was said to be ten new tracks and that is largely true, though fans of the band will first recognize occasional show opener “Untitled” present and now called “TFO” and stuff-of-legends Internet floating mp3 “A Night” reincarnated as “Sunlight,” now about eBay, Paganism and sun worship. Many of the songs deal with situations that stem from the band’s travels to regional locales such as Niagara Falls, Passaic and Coney Island, while also documenting misadventures from an epic excursion during their Florida tour in which the band had “been lost in Orlando and saw too much.” Leadoff song “Nothing but Change Part II” is a humble introduction to the band that opens with a sound reminiscent of the awakening of a storefront mechanical horse, which channels into similar guitar accompaniment, speaking of changes philosophically and literally (as coins) and presenting the remainder of the album, “one down and nine to go.” The following song “Strictly Game” is undoubtedly going to be the most-heard of the songs on Technicolor Health, offering road-weary optimism indicative of a band that is perpetually traveling, with Benaim sounding agitated (“I’m sick of slow rock/ I’m sick of quick quips/ I’m sick of holdin’ on to nothin’/ when I just want to hold your hips“) but promising to “make a little money/ take a lotta shit/ feel real bad/ and get over it (this will be a better year).” While “Strictly Game” is the one with the most hit potential, “Sunlight,” is the best song here, using drum machines, synths and acoustic strums to build an ascendant anthem with pagan undertones. Through the Shakes’ wall of sound you can hear faint memories of `50s/’60s-style rock and subtle Latin influences, harmoniously swarmed with oohs and ahs, like flowers surreptitiously planted.
Technicolor Health is refreshing and fun. It’s merely a starting point for a band destined to mega-stardom—appealing to those stuck in Vampire Weekend fandom, stuck in their tweens, but also to those with a brain and love for pop music. Harlem Shakes are akin to Bishop Allen when they were cute but with infinitely more talent. It’s not so ironic that they are named after a dance move—this music incites dancing.