As the weather here in Ann Arbor changes from rosy-nosed cold and gonadally harsh to sweater shedding, sunglass prompting and frisbee conducive, we all begin to get frantic over what tunes are going to usher in that oh-so cherished oh-so missed summer lovin’. There’s nowhere better to look than perpetually summer-suspended Los Angeles, where up-and-coming band Harriet promises us some of those syrupy sweet summer feels with a recent EP that makes us crave beaches, sun and aloe vera.
Harriet’s members are young – Alex Casnoff, the singer and former member of bands Dawes and PAPA, is 27 and Henry Kwapis, the drummer, is only 21. However their sound is on the verge of maturity. The band has rock band set up, but is leaps and bounds from your traditional rock sound. Distant from your typical anything, Harriet EP is a cattle prod to the backside of palatable pop and radio-approved anthems. The band’s aura isn’t immediately placeable; Kwapis told me that the band was never a “genre project,” and Casnoff told me that he “(doesn’t) like when you can immediately place your finger on what (a song) is.” What is special about Harriet is that they’ve managed to earnestly represent their unique tastes, sounds and self-concept in an industry that emphasizes variations on hackneyed cookie-cutter archetypes.
Harriet EP, only four tracks in length, goes many different places and capitalizes on an eclectic soundscape. “Irish Margaritas,” the first track, is fun and danceable, but under the ebullient synths, excited drums, chirpy guitar licks and pinball bass lines hides the tale of the narrator’s Gaelic-Mexican-beverage-influenced struggle with lost romance; “One more drink and I might show up at your doorstep knowing fully well the probability that he’s inside / One more drink and I might tap you on the shoulder tell you ‘baby though it’s over and I know that that’s a lie,” Casnoff sings. It’s the kind of song that starts in-car aux cord arguments with me and my mother – not for everyone – but its concurrent sarcastic and heart wrenching qualities are something that everyone can appreciate.
“Up Against It” and “Burbank,” the second and third tracks, are different from “Irish Margaritas,” but are similar to each other. Both are reverberant, ruminative and emotionally viscous. These two songs cast the band’s songwriting prowess in a felicitous spotlight. At once sad and romantic, the album’s middle tracks hypnotize with a rose-pedals-and-red-wine seduction – tracks suited both for make outs and introspection on an open highway. The last track “Ten Steps” is somewhere between “Irish Margaritas” and “Burbank.” It’s exciting and diligently sentimental, with some of the EP’s most powerful lyrics.
As a whole, the lyrics on the EP are artful and resplendent, but evocatively casual, pupil-dilating and shocking at times. In “Ten Steps,” Casnoff sings, “If you’ve been killed again / My body is still physical when I’m asleep / I hear you breathe it in / I am detective you are my crime scene,” which has the conflicting sentimentality of a teddy bear wearing latex gloves. In “Burbank,” he sings “We were in love / The cigarette / That held her lips / The pussy wet,” in a way that isn’t the slightest bit naïve or derogatory – your grandma would ask for a Kleenex if she heard it. Casnoff described his songs as “first person monologues from characters that aren’t always (him) … all who deal with similar kinds of things, maybe in different ways … (like) anxiety and not being able to figure shit out.” While being a monologue, each track feels like an intimate beer-and-barstool conversation with Alex.
The last vital component to the Harriet admixture is the eyebrow skewing music videos. “Irish Margaritas” ’s video centers around a weird plastic lime literally placed on a pedestal and surrounded by TIKI torches and sparklers. In “Burbank,” a pornstar-moustached, Kenny-G-haired man assumes Casnoff’s role as the band’s singer, while Casnoff marries a stripper in front of a vending machine. The videos, which Casnoff likens to short movies, provide further insight into each track’s elusive soliloquist.
I’ve followed Harriet since its inception three years ago. Now signed with Harvest Records, owned by Capitol, the band has seen some radical changes over the years with a generally positive trend. Harriet EP is a precursor to the band’s full album, which the members and I both hope to see out this summer. If you’re a fan of well-written, inventive music or you simply like to be that person who knows a chill band that your friends don’t, Harriet deserves a listen. I look forward to their full album release and will be keeping Harriet on my radar; I suggest you do this same.