Love is the most thoroughly overused topic in music, but few evoke the feeling of love so genuinely as Harley Alexander & the Universal Lovers. The love this band emits is unconditional and all enveloping—it’s more than just a warm hug, it’s a full, minutes-long embrace.
It’s hard not to think about love throughout Gold Shirt, given that the opening song is called “Lookin For Love” and close “The Finest Scent” begins with the lyrics “Love’s so much better when you fall in love.” Add to the fact that Harley Alexander now calls his backing band the Universal Lovers and well, I’ve probably written the word “love” more in this review than all my other reviews combined.
Love can get stale, of course, and Alexander keeps the feeling alive with an ever-shifting sound, often embracing psychedelic pop (it’s no wonder he’s good friends with the guys from Walrus) but venturing well into funk and even a little bossa nova. Alexander also has a hell of a vocal range, effortlessly moving to a falsetto if need be — he shows if off early with the bass-grooving, leisurely paced “Lookin for Love.”
The slower, more sentimental side of love is in “Cosmic Latte” and the title track; the latter is the perfect Sunday-morning relaxation song that appropriately ends with a fade. “Beautiful Brian” is one of the sunniest but also biggest-sounding songs on the album, where Alexander’s vocals are first mixed in alongside the instruments and later separated as he increases the volume as the arrangement gets bigger.
The album is at its best when it suddenly enters strange realms. “Baby Blue” is downright hilarious when the smooth song suddenly brings in a demonic-sounding voice that should be smooth-talking a girl but instead stumbles over his words. “Trust” is the aforementioned foray into bossa nova, and the calm, summery chord strumming makes the lyrics that much better: “What do you want from me baby? I ain’t gonna hurt you/Okay I might hurt you but you ain’t the only one with a trust problem honey.” Naturally, the song gets a lot louder after that.
But all of those songs, while fantastic, can compare to the sheer joy of “Runnin Thangz” (ft. Charlotte Day Wilson and Brian Askew), which goes full-on funk and is so damn catchy you might end up not hearing the rest of the album as you keep it on repeat.
If you haven’t found love yet, stop your search. Harley Alexander has more than enough to go around.
Top Tracks: “Runnin Thangz”; “Trust”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)