Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
It may just be because the day becomes it, but the words of Harlem Shakes' new record, "Technicolor Health," seem to be this day in spring, at this very hour. It's an appreciation of sunlight that is just now starting to be recognizable as the one that we tend to characterize it as in lyric form, the hot thing that gives us all a reason to smile and enjoy the outdoors - makes us feel guilty for not doing so. That late autumn and winter sun is just a fraction of itself and the sooner it's gone, the better, a depressing imposter and imposition. It becomes quickly obvious how robust the song outside already is, with hundreds of birds chattering their beaks clean off, in code, and the way a light wind makes everything else vocal - a whistle here, a rustle there and whooshes in between. But then there are the little things that come into the frame that slap us in the jaw with a good, booming crack. For instance, at the end of the driveway, in the middle of the tree-lined street is the mashed carcass of a hare, possibly the one that you've seen recently in your backyard, nursing six young babies near your back door. Or, along the bike path that you were running earlier in the day, just as lead singer Lexy Benaim was singing about making a little money, taking a lot of shit, feeling really bad, but getting over it (a good way to live for the most part if the getting over it happens) in your ear buds, a dead squirrel lies there looking almost alive and praying, but recently expired. The tiny thing has some of the human qualities of how we would curl up at that point, if that result were upon us. It appeared to be clutching something in its claws, pulling it to its heart while failing completely on its side, with odd dignity. This wasn't a splayed out, beat down squirrel, but one that felt pain a little, that understood the circumstances. It's in seeing two creatures like that, gone fast and just there for anyone to see, that the mission statement of the band's record - as surmised by Benaim -- seems to set in most appropriately or at least firmly. As it's stated, the chief idea crossing through the album has to do with "defiantly avoiding despair," and though it's a desire, the actuality of it takes so many turns for us people. Everything that the rabbit and the squirrel were about involved some form of "defiantly avoiding despair" and look where they ended up - flattened on a road and left to rot near a golf course. They existed on the strict fulfillment of needs and wishes and nothing else, but for us, that's never enough for contentment and happiness. There has to be more and because there has to be more, it only enhances the complexities that already run rampant through all of us. There is always too much and still never enough of so many things. There's always some kind of flip-side to anything good or bad. Technicolor health could refer to health magnified and health as a magni-splendored, fully realized sensation, or it could be the many different shades and hues of health that only get picked at. The Shakes make a sound that bursts with the kind of swelling desire to collect as many of those fair-colored hues in the rainbow as possible, to bring them all to the picnic, where they'll sit down cross-legged and dig into a fresh meal whipped up, shared with a love, shared with a friend beneath a clear canopy of sky blue. This is about the only kind of optimistic approach that has a fighting chance of working, the kind that just brings you closer to your pulse and maybe someone else's. Benaim sings that he's "sick of quick quips, of holding on to nothing when I just want to hold onto your hips" and it's a touching moment, guised as a helpless one, but that's sort of how despair can be avoided.
Harlem Shakes Official Site
Harlem Shakes First Daytrotter session