On the Harlem Shakes’ self-released debut EP Burning Birthdays, the Brooklyn band shows an adept ability to write and play catchy, indie-rock, pop songs. Certainly, with their DIY ethos, this particularly lo-fi recording will probably remind the most ardent indie-rock fan of a harder rocking Shins. And much like the Shins, the Harlem Shakes songs are pretty damn infectious and quickly likeable – although I won’t claim that listening to either band will automatically change your life. Their quirky sense of harmony along with some of their own psychedelic bent – for example, the churning and expanding wall of guitar effect and harmony at the end of “Carpetbaggers,” or the quiet harmonic section during the bridge of “Felt Wings” – will also draw some direct and perhaps unfair comparison to the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.”
Although Burning Birthdays is a fun, romp, rollicking effort which shows great potential for the band, there are some problems – albeit minor ones. Throughout the Shakes’ impressive debut, I must admit that there were several points in which I felt it was too easy to figure out who some of their influences were and how much of a debt they owed to their influences. And I hope that as their sound develops, they create something significantly and powerfully unique. If Burning Birthdays captures only half of the energy that might occur in their live shows, they’ll have a great future.