ARTICLE NATASHA STAGG
July 31st, 2014. Fans of Austin garage rock band Harlem’s 2009 and 2010 releases, Free Drugs ;-) and Hippies are most likely at least a little interested in satire. Of that wave of Matador and Burger Records party anthems, Harlem’s releases were more tongue-in-cheek lyrically (and album title-wise) than the rest, which meant that singer Michael Coomer’s well-read, flippant words fell on many a deaf ear at the festivals in which Harlem’s music otherwise fit right in. With his newer project, Lace Curtains, Coomer lets the lyrics do a little more of the talking over a less easily-categorized sound. But even all the stories heard on 2012’s The Garden of Joy and the Well Lonliness have stories of their own (as do the record's art, its video teasers, related tweets...).
Today’s first release since then, “Wilshire And Fairfax,” and the rest of an upcoming album, A Signed Piece of Paper (October 2014, Female Fantasy) hasn’t eased up on the referentiality. Says Coomer, “The title of the album comes from an old saying—‘Don't come to Hollywood without a signed piece of paper’—from when talent scouts would go to beauty contests in places like Des Moines and tell a girl she should come to Hollywood to be a movie star. Back then, the actors were contract players for studios so the actor would come out and if they couldn't get signed by the studio, their options were usually pretty limited and often rough. This song is about Biggie Smalls. Wilshire and Fairfax was the corner where he was shot.” The tracks on A Signed, each an exciting departure from the last, are full sonically, too, including guest vocalists and a wider range of instruments than Lace Curtains's last LP. It is however, somewhat cohesive, feeling more like an unironical 1970s variety show than today's modern equivalent (the much less sensitized, electronically-aggregated playlist).
The album art, also released today, might need some explaining, too. It’s a laptop on a bed, open to a Google image search for bedbug bites. Sexy, right? The promo art—a staged photo, shot wide enough to see the surrounding set—has maybe even more levels to it than that. “This photo is a recreation of the scene in Sunset Boulevard, in which Norma Desmond comes down the stairs and thinks the police and news cameras are working on a film (starring her) for Cecil B. Demille,” he tells V. Does this mean Coomer (who plays Desmond here, in case you were still wondering) is finally ready for his close up? Don’t count on the message coming through that effortlessly. If the degrees of distraction Coomer implements within his projects feel like an arms-length greeting, try to forget them while listening to the new Lace Curtains track, above. Yes, the music was most likely as neurotically constructed as everything else he does, meticulous in its own winks and nods to all the genres he seems to have missed since being pigeonholed as just as Nuggets-loving as his SoCal/Austin peers—but the work pays off, and somehow even sounds… easy.