I distinctly remember when Haerts, a Brooklyn-based indie-pop band, almost controlled the underground blogosphere last year October. They suddenly and without much prior notice emerged into the music scene with their debut single entitled, ‘Wings,’ a track that screamed innovation and honesty in and amongst a sea of same-old indie bands. Having listened to the EP solidly since it started streaming a week before its official release via Columbia Records on October 8th, I have put a lot of thought into what gives these tracks their hypnotic power. I finally concluded that the essence and charm of Haerts’s winning formula lies in their conflation of dichotomies, where the wistful sounds of a Southern songstress rocking flared jeans, crusty boots, and a flannel shirt, swaying to the immersive sounds of her own enthralling voice, merges with the soundtrack to an energetic urban jungle rooftop party inundated by the traces of a tropical fad. It seems that Nini Fabi, the front woman of the band, alongside band mates, Ben Gebert, Garrett Lenner, Derek McWilliams, and Jonathan Schmidt, have fused completely opposing ends of the musical spectrum with apparent ease, and have formed something unique.
Hemiplegia, their debut EP, is awash in atmospheric slow-burners, inspired by new wave and classic eighties pop, with Fabi’s dynamic vocal timbre reining supreme throughout. Her vocals transition within seconds from moments of yearning to rapturous bouts of elation, and their glowing clarity contrasts with the sonic backdrop of clipped synths, unobtrusive percussion and upbeat guitar licks that glisten with their own distinct dreamy charisma as they propel Fabi’s immersive voice over varying emotive canyons. With Jean-Philip Grobler’s production skills on board (Grobler is better known for his role as being the South African brains behind Brooklyn-based synth-pop outfit, St. Lucia, who released their debut LP, When the Night, on the same day) the songs dip through moments of calm, and then glide back into their neon-tinged exultation, almost creating a sonic pendulum, regulating a trance for the listener to fall into.
The title and opening track, ‘Hemiplegia,’ has a slow start, but gradually ascends towards the farther-reaching soundscapes this four-track EP explores. The smoothness of Fabi’s voice skates over the effervescent pulse of the song, which eventually caves into a euphoric clash of soaring indie-pop. The repeated lyrics, “No, you can’t move up with your eyes down,” are almost indicative of their open-minded approach to craft, as they have spoken of their musical project being almost like a “blank canvas” onto which they have merely thrown ideas. This has taken them to their non-genre specific sound and their growing success. However, ‘Hemiplegia’ merely paves the way for the real star of the EP, the hit single ‘Wings’, that was released late 2012. Fabi’s almost Stevie-Nicks-like vocals cut right through the 80s-inspired rhythmic grooves and mellow synths which glisten in a thin layer of reverb. Yet even their seemingly upbeat songs still articulate a feeling of despondency, and Fabi speaks of the track having something to do with “growing up and having to trade certain conceptions and memories for new truths or realities and finding beauty within that.” These moments within the EP are short-lived, though, and the next cut is the brilliant follow-up single to ‘Wings’ entitled ‘All the Days,’ which has an up-tempo ballad-like nature that evokes visual stimulation with a dream-like quality. The gushy sentimentality of the tracks is only somewhat shrouded by the fact that the songs are susceptible to sounding alike after a couple of listens. But when one considers the uniqueness of the band’s overall sound, this can be looked past. Taken as a whole, they leave one feeling invigorated at almost any time of day and in almost any mood.
Haerts wish to create music that is driven by feeling rather than sound, and this is most certainly realised in the listener’s reactions to Hemiplegia, which range from impassioned responses of delight, to meditative calm. This made me wonder whether the title of the EP, and the phenomenon of hemiplegia itself, which entails experiencing a partial or total paralysis of one side of the body, mirrors the experience of listening to their emotionally complex and decidedly ‘bitter sweet’ music.
Their brief existence as a band is inconsequential in the wake of their massive success, and one can only view this EP as a mere thirst-quencher in anticipation of their debut full-length, which should be released early 2014. They have been spending the year touring with the likes of Shout Out Louds, Atlas Genius, Fitz and the Tantrums, and most recently, Washed Out, suggesting their growing prominence within the New York indie-scene. We can only hope they can continue their trajectory; the results could be astounding.