In the age of the Internet, of Youtube and Bandcamp and Facebook, it seems like just about anyone can be heard. This can be wonderful in some cases by giving voices to those who may not get a second chance otherwise. However, when you increase the sheer output of music reaching the world like that, it becomes that much more difficult to find something “original” to listen to.
The fairly new California band Harbors (comprised of David Shayne and Spencer Simmons) may seem like your generic band of cool guys in the context of the sheer amount music available to us, but there are many worse things to be.
At its best, the band’s self-titled debut album resembles the work of Weekend In The City-era Bloc Party. Soft, emotionally engaging and lyrically heart wrenching. Stories of heartbreak, disillusionment and love gone sour pepper the album and seem to be the band’s great strength. David Shayne’s glossy guitar riffs and cool, smooth vocals work together the best when conveying a sense of melancholy, of personal distress even behind seemingly-upbeat tracks.
The most apt examples of this sound are “Glass Heart” (the story of the end of a great love) and “Ghost” (the story of the end of a complicated, unbalanced love). I truly felt and understood the pain in these songs. “Guns” (the slowed-down album closer) in particular drew me in emotionally.
The parts of the album I found to falter are the parts where the songs stop feeling like intimate confessions of inner pain. With such a polished and stylized sound, Harbors can’t afford to lose the emotional heart of their music. At those times, they start to sound like every other band of hair-gelled cool guys you see performing at open mics and going home with the girls who came to sing folk songs. They’re by no means bad or unskilled. They’re just affected. It feels less like listening to people who understand pain and came here to tell us their secrets and more like some guys fancying themselves to be oh so very brooding and aloof and poetic.
“Stay Here” and “Darkest Eyes” in particular play like Shayne has kicked back in a deck chair with a cigarette in his mouth to condescend to some poor lost girl as if he thinks he has an infinite wealth of wisdom. The band seems very fond of playing songs that talk about wounded girls, and sometimes they do it with a compelling amount of empathy and melancholy (like in “Guns” for example). But sometimes there’s something vaguely and dangerously close to misogynistic about the way women are addressed in these songs.
Musically, Harbors has written several songs that are actually very catchy. I recommend “Good Luck”, “Ghost” and “Stranger” for the sort of song you’d sing along to with the windows of your car down on a lazy summer day. There’s no doubt about it; the guys of Harbors are cool, and they make cool music. If only they were a bit more reliable when it comes to the actual emotional substance of their songs.
I’d give the album a 6.5 out of 10, and I look forward to watching this band mature.
Overall Album Vibe: Indie Soft Rock
Review Tagline: Harbors’ Self-Titled Debut: When Generically Cool Meets Emotionally Compelling
Standout Tracks: “Catalyst”, “Ghost”
Review by Ashley Chupp