The three long-haired Haim sisters – bassist Este, lead vocalist Danielle, and guitarist Alana – look and sound like they belong in a different decade. Raised in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, they grew up listening to the Americana and classic rock record of their musician parents. Catching the musical bug young, the three sisters formed a cover band called “Rockinhaim” (later HAIM) to play at local charity fairs.
After graduating from high school, the two older sisters founded the short-lived group The Valli Girls, who had a memorable appearance in the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants soundtrack. HAIM stayed on the backburner as Este studied ethnomusicology at UCLA and Danielle toured on back-up guitar with The Strokes and CeeLo Green. In 2012, the sisters decided to take the former family-cover band out of their garage and onto the road. By the end of the year, HAIM had played at Lollapalooza, opened for Mumford and Sons, and won the BBC Sound of 2013 award.
Their scattered past speaks much to why the album feels like a jukebox of musical genres – from synth-pop “My Song 5” to Fleetwood Mac-esque “The Wire” to the stadium-anthem “Running if you Call My Name”. What the album lacks in continuity, it makes up in catchy hooks and musicality. To their credit, this eclectic sound is never jarring, but instead feels like a brilliantly guided tour through the decades.
Most songs on the album benefit form Este’s degree in ethnomusicology. Never before on a pop album have I heard such a range of instruments gleefully thrown together. Many songs that could have easily been bland were infused with heavy, complicated drum lines and soaring cascades of instruments falling in and out of the music.
Although Danielle Haim, has an honest, engaging voice, the lyrics were often overpowered by the musical acrobatics happening behind them. The album is a collection of break-up songs whose lyrics do not bring much to the tired genre and are not very memorable. Luckily, every song contains driving percussion, keeping the wandering, bland melodies tight and focused.
It is unfortunate that “Days Are Gone” fails in this category. If HAIM had brought the same playfulness and depth to their lyrics as they had to the composition of the music, this great album could easily be one of the best of 2013.
Songs to Buy:
- “My Song 5.” It’s an edgy, slow motion stomper that is unafraid of being synthetic. With long musical breakdowns, this song real allows HAIM’s signature percussion and eclectic instrumentation to shine. Playful drops in pitch and Inception-inspired womps keep a listener on their toes. Like I Spy, I found something new every time this song came on. Definitely one to play on repeat.
2. “The Wire,” a clever song with a tight melody. It ebbs and flows between sanguinity (Danielle lingers on “naturally” drawing it out into four syllables). The acapella break-down in the middle of the song is one of the best moments of the album – each of the sisters prove that they can own vocally. A driving baseline and catchy chorus is one of the natural combinations of lyrics and musical on an album characterized by this disjointedness. This song has a gleeful mix of instruments (including a synthetic organ that appears and subsequently conquers the song for the last thirty seconds). One of the best on the album, and to date, HAIM’s biggest mainstream hits.
The Final Verdict and Last Thoughts:
HAIM has something for everyone: eclectic styles for the playlist generation, soft-rock nostalgia for the Fleetwood Mac fans, complex instrumentation for the Music major, and a solid, interesting sound for everyone else. Although the lyrics leave much to be desired, the overall experience is electrifying and not one to be missed.The sisters are all incredibly competent drummers and end every concert with a drum finale during which their show becomes the hippest three-person drumline in history.