Harlem Puts Us To Sleep With Oh Boy
By Jay Armstrong
After nine years of bottomless Harlem infatuation it is with the heaviest heart I must say this new album Oh Boy is disappointingly mediocre. In comparison to Hippies it is merely flat, on the barometer of Austin rock n roll it is dismal. If ever there were an album I hope my opinion to be grossly wrong about it would be this one. My fingers are crossed others listening to it find enjoyment in what I cannot. Criticism all too often gets misconstrued as being an attempt to devalue a band. I LOVE Harlem. They were monumental in my early days of grasping greater than the status-quo noise; I’ll never let go of their importance on this path. It is a shame they waited nine years to light off such a dud. Love should never be blind; I can look past this album and that is the closest thing to a compliment I can come up with.
Even the strongest songs “Blonde on Blonde” and “Queen of Mosquitos” sound like half-ideas not fully developed. The drums throughout are safe, the guitar work academically lackluster, bass and keys familiarly forgettable, bloated hyperbolic sentiment pours from every song. It is as though the band has only listened to Fevers and Mirrors from Bright Eyes on repeat for nine years but lack the creative genius to develop the inspiration beyond safe clean soft ambition. Each line delivered comes off as one trying to show emotional depth yet never once touches personal. The album might as well be a one person bedroom project from someone wanting social value for their bravery at admitting sadness and faults without even slightly telling us something honest beyond the vague or superficial.
Oh Boy is shallow parading as minimalist art. One might have said the same about Hippies I suppose–though now I find myself practically screaming at my speakers over the lack of even a hint of rock n roll which is a newly developed sentiment aimed at the band. There are no risks, no personality, just a sad sack of loss and love and shortcomings without a redeemable moment to load all of it on the back of. Harlem could once light all of us into a dancing frenzy, what is this drab nothing? Peter Pan has grown up and forgotten how to fly. Oh Boy is an album one could only expect to grow out of nine-to-five boredom by someone towing always a business casual line. I am utterly confused by what made them decide this was worth resurfacing for. Had this been their first album it would have been fine, a stepping stone not so much listened to by anyone but still exists in the background, a reminder of where they came from. As an album this far into the game, as something they have arrived at, Oh Boy sounds about as good as that Lou Reed/Metallica joint Lulu and barely more listenable.
There is a crowd for this album; the fifteen to nineteen demographic is going to cry all over this one with happiness–which is fine. I don’t want the band to fail. I don’t want my negativity towards these songs to be anything beyond constructive criticism. All I want is for Harlem to come out and admit their gain was broken on the amp, they were down to their last pair of sticks so they couldn’t risk breaking one on the cymbals, and they only had two hours to write and record the album; in which case if they do I’ll raise my criticism to a passing C simply out of factors beyond their control. Meanwhile on the bright side; at least they are out playing shows again–my advice is they stick to their hits (ie, songs from Hippies with a few Lace Curtains and Grape St. notables mixed in to round the forty-five minutes out). Each song on Oh Boy almost develops into something, if they are set on playing any of them out, let us sit with baited breath, nervously optimistic they figure out how to fine tune them before the crowd falls asleep. Ultimate opinion of Oh Boy:#thoughtsandprayers #makeharlemgreatagain.