You Have To Hear: Harlem Shakes

Harlem Shakes are a very sad story in indie music. Their debut album, ‘Technicolor Health’, is probably my favourite album of the year so far. They are genuine, upbeat, catchy, and just plain awesome. Or, maybe I should say “They were genuine…”, because they suddenly broke up only a few months ago.

Harlem Shakes were a heavy-buzz-band in the leadup and aftermath of the 2007 release of their EP ‘Burning Birthdays’, which by most accounts hinted at potential but never really delivered in a lasting way. They opened shows for artists such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Passion Pit, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, and Wire. They seemed guaranteed of success when they finally released an LP.

In March 2009, Harlem Shakes released their first LP, ‘Technicolor Health’. It is a masterpiece of hook-filled pop tunes, upbeat lyrics, and catchy synth-driven choruses. It drew comparisons to some of my favourite music while at the same time being completely and utterly unique. Its defining moment comes during the chorus of the lead single, ‘Strictly Game’, when they proclaim loudly that “This will be a better year/We’ll make a lot of money, take a lot of shit/Feel real bad, then get over it”, almost certainly a self-reference to their appalling year of 2008. The ‘Shakes, like me, thought ‘Technicolor Health’ should be a runaway success.

It wasn’t. Their LP is one of the most criminally overlooked albums of the decade, and one can only speculate as to whether this was one of the reasons for their untimely breakup. The most appalling thing is that their Wikipedia entry contains all of 35 words, half of which are in reference to the marriage of the Harlem Shakes keyboardist to some second-rate internet celebrity. It also has no idea that they have broken up.

You can’t help but wonder what might have happened to this band if  ‘Strictly Game’ had been featured on an iPod ad. I don’t think we’ll ever really know why they broke up. Probably because most people don’t seem to care. Their magnificent album has slipped under the radar of pretty much everyone, and they are one of those bands that will never get to fulfill their true potential. In the age that we live in; with the sheer number of music blogs and internet music sites, this is an embarrassing thing to happen.

Although we’ll always have Technicolor Health: their first, and last, masterpiece.

Perhaps they themselves sum-up their short-lived career and demise best: “Well I did what I thought I was supposed to do/All I sang so close to true/Now I wanna be the one that means the most to you” (‘Sunlight’). The Harlem Shakes did all they could to get noticed, and they did it their own way, with melodic pop tunes and songs that sound like warm summer days.

It is truly saddening to see such a optimistic, happy, and genuine band fall apart, while depressing and pessimistic ones remain. The Harlem Shakes were a breath of fresh air, and I will always remember them as the band that I fell in love with.

But I still really wish that throughout this post I could have written ‘are’ rather than ‘were’.

Listen if you like: Passion Pit, The Asteroid Galaxy Tour, The Holloways, Vampire Weekend, feeling depressed at unfulfilled potential

Artist: Harlem Shakes

Song: Strictly Game

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