Instead of being swallowed by the tidal wave of hype that built behind them with each new buzz track and festival performance, the Haim sisters surfed it like the born and bred Cali girls they are. The weight of expectation appears to have made no dent on Days Are Gone. Indeed, the band’s much-anticipated debut LP stays remarkably true to the ‘70s rock-tinged West Coast pop that landed the trio on everyone’s radar in 2012.
Given how tantalizingly close HAIM have come to registering a breakthrough hit in this country (they’ve already accomplished that feat in markets like Australia and the UK), it would be understandable to throw in a couple of radio-friendly singles or punish our ears with a horrible feature but their music admirably remains just left of center enough to protect their status as pop’s most enjoyable conundrum.
Este, Danielle and Alana have an uncanny knack for capturing a sense of place and time in their songs. From the moment “Forever” appeared on college radio, it became apparent that the talented siblings were bringing Californian pop back to the (almost) masses. That catchy guitar pop gem evokes images of sun-bleached strip malls and long car rides with the windows down. You can take the girls out of the Valley but it seems you can’t the Valley out of their music. That Fleetwood Mac by way of Van Nuys/The Go-Gos of Sherman Oaks sonic aesthetic runs through the entirety of the LP.
“Don’t Save Me”, HAIM’s first massive step to indie-pop darling status, upped the winning harmonies and hooks (if the Grammys handed out an award for the best use of hand claps, this would have been a shoo-in) – and had all the elements of a crossover smash. I don’t think that’s particularly high on the band’s agenda but re-releasing the gem with their new higher profile wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Their expert musicianship and less is more approach to production marked them as the real deal as did their whimsical lyrical approach, which is probably when all the ‘70s pop/rock comparisons come from. This chorus could have come straight from Stevie Nicks‘ notebook.
The sisters loudly protest that their music is music is more influenced by ‘90s girl bands TLC and Destiny’s Child but apart from occasionally complementary outfits, it’s difficult to hear on songs like “Falling” and current single “The Wire”. The former is a typically dreamy chunk of lo-fi pop, crafted (or perhaps deconstructed) into a sprawling soundscape by much-hyped producer Ariel Rechtshaid (the man behind Solange’s exquisite True EP and Sky Ferreira’s career-validating “Everything Is Embarrassing”). “The Wire”, on the other hand, is a rollicking guitar-pop song that sounds pretty rad sandwiched between Sheryl Crow and Billy Joel on an iTunes playlist (trust me, I’ve tried it). The catchy ode to fucking up matters of the heart is a good promo-push away from radio love.
Of the new tracks, “Running If You Call My Name” and “If I Could Change Your Mind” should duke it out to be the set’s next single. Another gorgeously loose and unhinged Ariel Rechtshaid production, “Running If You Call My Name” evokes Pat Benatar and Kate Bush in their early ‘80s synth phases – only with Danielle’s caramel voice smoothing down the edges and ensuring a nugget of raw emotion resides under the cascading synths and harmonies. It’s the song you’re going to play while you’re nursing a broken heart in the wilds of suburbia. “If I Could Change Your Mind” is the LP’s most straightforward pop moment. I can imagine (a different version) of this breezy, synth-rock anthem on a Sugababes album. It sounds like a surefire hit to my ears.
Jessie Ware helped co-write “Days Are Gone” and, sonically, it takes HAIM the furthest from their West Coast comfort zone. Straight to London to be exact. Staccato beats pepper the album’s subtle but multi-layered title track. The bass takes center stage on this gem, closely followed by the band’s exceptional harmonies. The band has another experimental moment on “My Song 5”. “I’ve been lied to, so what’s the truth?” demands Danielle on the album’s angriest rock track — reminding the listener that there’s a thinly veiled edge to the band’s otherwise sunniness. There’s even a splash of autotune on this crunching jam that further singles it out as the most un-HAIM track on the LP.
If they are the most adventurous offerings, “Honey & I” is the purest retro-rock/pop gem. It vibes along gently, breaking up the album’s darker tracks and brings some more Californian sun to the proceedings. There isn’t a bad song on Days Are Gone but of the exceedingly good bunch “Let Me Go” and “Go Slow” are the tracks most likely to be skipped by impatient listeners. The former hurtles along angrily but lacks the hooks and harmonies to retain interest beyond the crunching guitars, while “Go Slow” is the set’s token ballad. It’s undeniably pretty but takes repeated listens to unfold fully. Which is a big ask in today’s ADD world.
HAIM stay true to their trademark sound and paint a vivid picture of sunny days, palm trees and crack footpaths on Days Are Gone. If it stumbles in any department it’s perhaps lyrically repetitive but it’s hard to notice when you’re being swept away in a rush of perfect harmonies, driving guitars and cascading synths. Debut LPs don’t come much better.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: Pop fans will cream their pants over synth-drenched gem “If I Could Change Your Mind”, “Running If You Call My Name” comes a close second.
Best Listened To: While floating in an inner-tube at a pool party — bottle of beer in hand.
Full Disclosure: “Don’t Save Me” was one of my favorite songs of 2012. I knew then that HAIM were special.
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Mike Wass