[All images courtesy of Harlow’s Monkeys]
“Like the psychological experiments of Harry Harlow on infant monkeys suggests, Harlow’s Monkeys is fundamentally about the variety of relationships we have with our parents, friends, lovers, community, and most [importantly], ourselves.”
Founded in 2016, Harlow’s Monkeys is a project featuring songs written by San Francisco singer-songwriter, Tommy P., with the support and harmonies of Cory Harlin and Amanda Salguero. “In the studio, the songs are informed by an ever-revolving cast of friends from the local scene lending their talents.”
Their latest release, Several Lives and Several Deaths, was released on May 17, 2019 across all streaming platforms, as well as on a limited edition cassette with a water-colored album cover.
“Perfect Record” kicks off the album with an awesome juxtaposition between eerie underwater tones and acoustic guitar. The vocals of the track are smooth and clear, a great match for the airy backing instrumentals. Nothing about the track feels too rushed or slow, especially with the timings of transitions in the music; things are always kept interesting despite the comparatively long running time of the song (5:09). With relatable themes of longing for something unattainable, “Perfect Record” is a great start to Several Lives and Several Deaths.
“Exceptional” brings a groovy bassline to the forefront, a trait I truly appreciate in a song. This steady, thrumming line gives the track a deeper, off-beat feel that makes it sound truly unique from many songs I have heard before. The funky, confident vocals add to this effect as well, but it’s still easy to hear the lyrics, a crucial part of this track: “It’s just a matter of chance, chance/We’re not exceptional/We’re just doing the best….we can.” Besides bestowing listeners with a realistic and encouraging motto to remember, “Exceptional” is just plain groovy, and one of my favorites on the album.
“Monument” provides the album with another awesome bassline, making it another favorite of mine. Despite the prevalence of the bass and the similar, off-kilter feel, the style of “Monument” continues the theme of each song sounding pleasingly different from the last. There’s no need to worry about ear fatigue when listening to Several Lives and Several Deaths, that’s for sure! “Monument” has a very chilled-out energy to it, which gives the track a cool summer vibe, so make sure to add it your your summer 2019 playlists!
The vocal lines and harmonies in “Forgiven” are perfectly-pitched and a pleasure to listen to. Speaking to listeners in second person, the lyrics remind us,”You are forgiven/You are loved/You don’t have to be so strong/You are not the only one carrying on/Share the load/Take it slow.” Featuring the title of the album in the lyrics as well, this track is a wonderful song to remind yourself that things are going to be okay, and people out there do care about you more than you may know.
“Lentils” isn’t the stand-out song of Harlow’s Monkeys’ album, but it is still more than pleasant to listen to on its own and I love the creativity of its title. The instrumentals of this track are steady and well-paced, and the lyrics are interesting to pick apart throughout the song: “And I remember/Last Halloween/Cooking lentils in my kitchen.” The moments discussed in the lyrics are honest and simple, but are also painted vividly through wonderful word choice and clear feelings and delivery.
“Rorschach” features simple but catchy instrumental melodies that sound like I’d imagine its namesake to. The instrumentals do a wonderful job of backing up Harlow’s Monkeys’ version of a classic love/loss story. The metaphor of a Rorschach Test—an psychological analysis method using a patient’s interpretation of inkblot shapes—takes us through the lyric’s story of a complicated relationship: “But memories can be tricky/It’s a Rorschach test/And time’s illusion is that it’s living till the past is all that’s left/All the golden moments glossed over the harder times…”
“Farallon Islands” has playful folk feel to it with its sound effects and tinkling xylophone melodies. With the positivity I’ve come to associate with the music of Harlow’s Monkeys, the lyrics guide us on a journey of self-growth and enjoying the world for what it is: “It’s just learning to accept all this love that we get/And I still have so much farther to go.” The song’s message is wonderful, like so many of the tracks on this album, but many of its lines stand out for their poetic nature and phrasing as well: “Yes, I’ve learned that life don’t have to be so hard/If you dig into the moments that you are/See the diamonds in the sky, how it’s strange to be alive/To come from the dust of those stars…”
“Easy Answer” surprises me with its electronic tones and darker, quieter vocals, but I don’t dislike them. In fact, “Easy Answer” was an interesting addition to the album for its musical differences from the rest of the tracks. With its repetitive nature and comparatively mainstream feel, I could easily see this being the favorite of fans who enjoy music like that of Walk the Moon. Overall, little details like tempo changes and electronic effects made this track unique and fun.
The horn tones in “Veils” are also a nice surprise. Keeping with the slower themes of “Easy Answer,” “Veils” features warm acoustic tones and matching vocals. I like the phrasing of the lyrics; they blend beautifully with the sweeping instrumentals to create a ballad-like aesthetic throughout the song. The track feels very full, but not overwhelming, and is overall a wonderful second-to-last song for Several Lives and Several Deaths.
The final song of Several Lives and Several Deaths is “Wilderness.” The calm instrumentals are an interesting twist on the title and a credit to the lyrics. As the vocals describe pictures of tranquility—”Watch the rivers rush through the ruins of the wild/Through the dreams of mountains and dandelion piles/Fluttering through the wind/Fluttering through the wind….”—we are reminded that love is many things, including an adventure that is, much like the wilderness, wild and peaceful all at once. “Wilderness” was a wonderful way to finish off Several Lives and Several Deaths without making a song that sounds like all the rest out there.
In 2019, Harlow’s Monkeys plans to release one song a week, resulting in fifty-two songs put into the world by 2020 in what Tommy P calls, “The Great Exhale.”
Keep in tune with new releases throughout 2019:
***Like all of my reviews, a submission fee was charged for this post***