No Hemming and Hawing When It Comes To Haim

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's great to see girls with guitars. So times that by three and *ding! ding!* we have a winner, and that winner is Haim. Comprised of LA-bred sisters Este, Alana, and Danielle, Haim are pop music's newest catnip. Jubilant and melodic pop/R&B with dashes of girl power sass and California dreamin' sensibilities that are cut and frayed with a jagged edge --- it's all so hard to resist --- and in a sea of those feeling nostalgic and remixing old into new, the Haim sisters are of a unique breed. Look no further than their latest single, "The Wire" which is possibly the catchiest song of 2013, and one that (thankfully) diverts from the exhaustive EDM of today's pop formula and whisks them into a position where they are not just the silk swathed belladonnas that Stevie Nicks never birthed, but are aural designers dressing up Folk-Pop in some brand new and sharper attire --- and you bet all of the zig and zag that they do is deliciously unexpected.

Scrolling through reviews concerning their debut album, Days Are Gone, you'll notice that a number of familiar names and time eras will be thrown at you in concerns to these three sisters. It'll go a little something like this:
  • They sound like [insert pop diva, female group, Miley Cyrus, Sinead O'Connor, your neighbor down the street].
  • They sound like that [insert band, anything made in the '80s, obscure band only the writer knows about].
  • They embody the '90s.
  • They embody the '80s.
  • They embody the '70s.
  • They are this.
  • They aren't this.
  • They are all of this.
  • Blah dee blah [insert witty music journalistic muse] blah.
Exhausting, right? So what the heck do Haim sound like? Listening to Days Are Gone, there are blatant influences that are hard to not scratch at, the most obvious being Fleetwood Mac, which the sisters have been steadfastly pegged as kinfolk since everyone got a whiff of their audacious introduction single, "Forever". The sisters have the gusty guitars, maze-like song structures, and free-flowing lyrical runs to prove that they could be Mac offspring. Touches of the askew and highly kinetic percussive pop of Phil Collins can also be heard, as well as Heart's powerhouse love lettering and Shania Twain's country fried finesse is similarly exercised. As for me, these sisters froth up some attitude this side of Prince's former Revolution compadres, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman...that is if Wendy & Lisa rode bicycles and shopped at Anthropologie, but their harmonizing, diction, and guitar work is an evolving state of what the duo expressed in late '80s on albums like 1987's Wendy & Lisa and 1989's Fruit On The Bottom.

But know what? I've fallen into the exact same trap as those indecisive word barraging critics, because its clear from all the grocery list of comparisons that Haim and Days Are Gone cannot be narrowed down or limited to tags of "they sound like this n' that" or a diet version of "so n' so". Haim have utilized their influences in small doses, avoiding all that guck, and have made an album that is fully and truly them as their personalities and musical nuances a chance to breathe. Haim aren't trying to snatch up fallen crowns to be the next "whoever"; they just simply play. It's why Days Are Gone is the most honest album you'll probably hear all year, it's an album by music lovers, for music lovers, and you better believe that is a towering feat, considering that we're in this era of plasticity, imitation, and flashy stunts.

The fuse is lit when "Falling" sparks on in all of its climatic percussive fervor, and it pinballs into the tumbling "Forever", it flowing into the rousing roadhouse rally of "The Wire" (did I mention how great it is hear an album where each song is in perfect tracklist order?) which has become one of the great kiss-off songs of the 21st Century.

Standouts like the frantic "If I Could Change Your Mind" (my personal favorite) possess on-point structuring as does the persistent percussive punch of "Let Me Go" and "Honey & I", the latter which (sigh) plays like the precocious of daughter of [insert any '80s Fleetwood Mac song], but is so damn infectious with its snatch-n-grab rhythm and freeflowing guitars is so non-pretentious, that you're reminded how Pop music can sound when ego isn't in the equation.

There is also a surprising moment where you realize Janet Jackson could have draped her sexiness all over something as crunchy, abstract, and bold as "My Song 5". It also bears mentioning that Jessie Ware co-wrote the title track, and with it's booming echoing chorus, of course she did. As much as there are rebel yells, Haim's softer moments are just as riveting, the best being the spacious "Go Slow" which dips and dives with a wonderfully sung chorus that falls into a bed of meditative webs of guitars and sonic synthesizers.

The sisters Haim have been on this sojourn for several years, starting in 2004, changing their name (Danielle and Este were with the crew The Valli Girls), shopping around a patchwork of material ("Always There In You" from Sisterhood of Traveling Pants and a pen on the theme song for the blink-and-miss animated series, Trollz) and performing on variant gigs (sis Danielle has toured in bands for Jenny Lewis and Cee-Lo Green) along the way. Days Are Gone is the accumulation of this journey, as the girls are older and wiser in their delivery, and the pay off is that the trio has composed a tight and focused assemblage of well-cobbled and delectable melodies that are nothing short of brain candy and packed with hit potential. Everything just clicks and falls into place here. Though they claim in album title that the 'days are gone' I have to question why, because from the sound of it this is clearly just the beginning....

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