By Mohamed Omar
Harlan Pepper, a Hamilton, Ontario band formed in 2008, is made up of four 21-year-old dudes who’ve been best friends since their wee kindergarten days. They’ve played hockey together, shared a home in freshman year and it seems like they all have the same (questionable) taste in shirts.
Their second album, Take Out a $20 and Live Life to the Fullest, released on Six Shooter Records March 11, showcases the group’s musical salad of blues, somewhat folky, country rock.
But while Harlan Pepper’s lads are talented musicians — and a track like “Soulless Boogie” is proof that they can say “fuck it” and break out into a Grateful-Dead-meets-Black-Keys jam — nothing on the album really sticks out.
Most of the album’s songs revolve around fairly bland, easy-listening bluesy rock politely entering your ears and leaving before you even realize what you’ve listened to. There’s almost never a point when you’ll go, “hey, this is something that I may remember in the next 30 seconds,” even after multiple listenings. That’s not to say the album isn’t catchy — it is. It’s just not anything special at all.
It’s a shame really, because the boys know how to play their instruments damn well, but they’re letting lyrics — very poor, cliched lyrics at that — do all the talking on an album that wants to sound all grown up.
Take “Oh Brother,” the second half of the intro track, for example. Lines like, “you’ve got to see all of the world, so I’ll just be a boy and you’ll just be a girl,” ruin an otherwise fun song with an even slightly-memorable bassline. Thanks a lot, shitty lyrics.
On the album closer, “I Can’t Swim,” the must-have-been-written-in-rez-after-a-sad-kegger lines,”I can’t swim without you, I’ve been thinking about you, I can’t swim without you” make you want to shove pool noodles in both ears.
Go ahead, do it, because it somehow gets worse. “Doing backstrokes, moving faster, I’ll get over you,” sings one of the band’s three vocalists, who all sound the same, by the way.
But the fact that the album has the lyrical quality of a coconut didn’t completely massacre all the songs for me — Harlan Pepper can still churn out infectious tunes like “Gimme Love” and “Love Takes a Lot.” Both are good, fun, simple songs with solid choruses, and that’s usually a good thing for an up-and-coming band. Both also contain the word “love” in the title.
I get it — Harlan Pepper clearly wants to exhibit something more mature than that in Take Out a $20, but if they continue to insist on expressing their music through lyricism, then the band is going to have a tough time learning to swim.
Verdict: Two Hamilton jokes out of five.