Free Drugs

(Female Fantasy; 2009)

By Alan Baban | 24 September 2009

Like almost everybody lives outside their country of birth, musically-speaking. God knows where I was when Pixies came a-callin’—in front of the computer screen, it would seem. Kind of like right now except it’s cool to sometimes believe that yours truly has shoulder-to-shoulder become a better, less moustachio’d person in the interim. Kind of, I guess, until a band like Harlem comes along with a song like “South of France” and by chorus’s end yours truly is halfway to moustachio’d territory from upper-lip coffee stains indelicately left after tossing coffee plus cup, because who gives a fuck, really? This album is called Free Drugs.

There are other great songs on it too. “Beautiful & Very Smart” rocks this Stereophonics-friendly melody but, like with all rock, it’s the context that counts as well as the steps taken here to optimise that context and expectation in totally positive ways—ie. not hearing Kelly Jones’s ass-voice, but of greater import having the drums hit loud and the dynamic suitably shambolic so the fills sound at once ridiculous but totally necessary to keep this from imploding into something Kelly Jones could never sing over. Which is not what we want. Check also: “Psychedelic Tits.”

Generally, if we said, now, that there’s, say, nine things a rock song should do—if there exists that protocol—then Harlem get irritated with the steez come point five. What’s the point of going through the motions if the object is entertainment—your own, and that of others? So all these songs get by on their own lack of ambition: immediate openings, thrashed verses, rider-toms bodyslammed like intruders, and anything in-the-water remaining firmly in the water. This means no big gambits, zero orchestration, nothing even on the scale of these other garage revivalists who, like, write originals and who form some supposedly higher authority through the stylistic hand-me-downs of every single garage band ever. There is nothing original here. These guys’ toes aren’t even dipped.

Which is cool, because it means this album is straightforward but also really honest. These guys may well deserve that sort of suboptimal and backhanded praise of ‘Sounds like They Had Fun!’ Except, because they deserve it—because stuff like the bridge off “I’m on Drugs” actually sounds, um, stimulated—because this is one big Had-Fun sound package, because it’s so true and unconcealed: this makes it a blast for people like you and me, too. People who may be Skittles-chomping or just idly typing away. Or maybe you’re actually doing drugs. I don’t know. But this record will be generous enough to the both of us, for me and all of You, Out There.

One thing though: it’s (none of it) free.

:: myspace.com/harlemduh