Douglas Martin is currently trying to book Harlem for a show in Mack-10’s backyard.

When Free Drugs, the infectious debut from Texas’ own Harlem, burst onto the scene, it felt something like an unearthed treasure. More of an obscure Southern garage record than a product of a band a few states away from Atlanta’s garage-punk scene, Free Drugs was the kind of record that had tempo-changes seemingly built with German engineering, psychedelic freakouts as bountiful as catchy hooks, and the charming, title-says-it-all romp of “Beautiful and Very Smart.” Most of all, Harlem had boogie, something most of their contemporaries lacked the rhythmic capacity for. So when indie-behemoth Matador Records snapped up the band, they could have simply made Free Drugs 2, carbon-copied the energetic petulance, and would have been just fine. Much to the surprise of all parties involved, with Hippies, they turned in a focused pop record that doesn’t sacrifice anything that made them a “band to watch” in the first place.

Kicking off with the major-key revenge fantasy “Someday Soon” (as in, “you’ll be on fire/and you’ll ask for a glass of water/and I’ll say nooooooooooo”), Hippies is full of open-throated singalongs perfect drunken Saturday nights or bright Saturday afternoons doing 90 on the freeway. Aside from the self-explanatory “Pissed” and the rousing single about having a basketball team named “Gay Human Bones,” Hippies primarily hosts love songs held together by a melodic focus even sharper than on Harlem’s debut record, bolstered with jangly guitars and peppered with glockenspiels(!) throughout, which sets the band apart from the off-key, shitfaced delirium of their peers in Black Lips. The songwriting and extra attention paid to classic song-structure are a major benefit to songs like “Crowd Pleaser”, with lyrics like, “But if I had my heart broken/I’m glad it was broken by you”. With bands these days, it’s hard to sell a line like that without being either hokey or ironic, but in this instance, the melody is so strong that you can’t help but sing along anyway.

Just because the pop tunes are there, don’t think that the dudes in Harlem threw their darker tendencies out with the bong water. “Prairie My Heart” starts with a quiet, acoustic-led sulk through the deserts of the Southwest before exploding into a locked-in coda that sounds like the perfect thing to play right before you smash all of your instruments. After fiddling with their amps at the beginning, they blast into “Stripper Sunset” with the force of a drunk-driven pickup truck barreling down an empty two-lane highway, containing a howl far more tuneful than we’re used to hearing in indie-rock. The final-third of Hippies shows that just because they learned how to write a good pop tune, the boys in Harlem still enjoy the thrill of kicking up dirt and scuffing their shoes.

With Hippies, Harlem takes all the promise from their debut and capitalizes on it in spades, creating one of the best rock records of 2010 so far. Tell your mama, tell your paw, tell everybody that you ever saw.

MP3: Harlem – “Friendly Ghost”

MP3: Harlem – “Gay Human Bones”

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