HAIM - Days Are Gone

I am absolutely outing myself as a lame sentimental dad here, but I can’t think about HAIM, the young and ridiculously talented band of California sisters, without imagining how proud their parents must be. I practically explode with pride every time I hear my daughter atonally howl along to the Annie soundtrack, so it’s tough to conceive of what the parents of the Haim sisters must be going through. If you watch them onstage, the three sisters, all in their early-to-mid-20s, seem self-possessed and present in ways that much more seasoned bands are still trying to figure out — and they all seem to genuinely like each other, which is an accomplishment in itself. Now, with their first album, they’ve made an LP of assured and fizzy pop music, one that sounds utterly of-the-moment without conforming to a single recent trend. There’s not one underwhelming song on the whole thing, and the level of shimmering craft is through the roof. They seem to have their sound totally figured out, and even the most forgettable songs have so many tiny swirling hooks that it takes weeks of listening to sniff them all out. I’ve never met the sisters in HAIM, and I’m proud of them. Their family must be over the moon.

And honestly, those parents get some of the credit. When you’re first learning how to write, teachers urge you to find sentences that you like and then to copy those sentences out longhand, so you get get a better idea of how they work, so you can start to internalize those mechanics. The Haim sisters did something similar with music, and they did it from a very early age. The sisters’ first band was with their parents, and it was an all-covers thing with the hilarious name Rockinhaim. Alana Haim, the youngest of the three sisters, was four when she started covering these ’70s classic-rock songs. On Days Are Gone, you can hear where the Gladwellian 10,000 hours that all three almost certainly put in pay off. All those lessons don’t just manifest themselves in the obvious ways, in song-structure or guitar riffs, but in subtler, less showy ways as well: Quiet shades of backing-vocal interplay, perfectly-placed woodblock thunks, basslines so unshowy that you almost don’t notice how propulsive they are. And it’s also there in they way all three sisters gracefully trade off lead-vocal duties, none of them hogging the frontman spotlight, and in the confidence it must take for all three to pull off totally convincing white-soul vocal showboating when the song calls for it.

It can be tough to describe the music on Days Are Gone because it doesn’t fit neatly into any pre-ordained template, and it doesn’t have much to do with any internet micro-trend that’s currently grubbing attention for itself. There’s nothing remotely indie rock about HAIM. They absolutely leapfrogged the whole crusty-clubs circuit, and they’ll probably be playing near the top of festival bills by next summer. And their sound is lush and incandescent; it sounds expensive. In a less enlightened time, they’d be written off as corporate-pop anointed ones and dismissed accordingly. And they are corporate-pop anointed ones; their debut album is, after all, a major-label affair. But they also seem loose and unguarded and unforced in ways that would’ve made them look like complete aliens at, say, this year’s VMAs.

The one comparison that HAIM keep drawing is Fleetwood Mac, and that one makes sense; there’s plenty of that band’s sweeping studio-rat elegance in what they do. But there’s other stuff at work, too. “The Wire” and “Don’t Save Me” some of the oldies-radio glam-rock shuffle of T. Rex. In Este Haim’s full and rubbery basslines and in the widescreen shuffle of their beats, there’s more than a hint of Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson. The entire history of ’80s soft-rock radio lives in the emotive synth-dissolve of “Go Slow.” And plenty of the influences are newer, too. The sisters love to talk about R&B girl groups like TLC and Destiny’s Child, and when newer bands talk about those groups, they’re usually using the name-checks as a shorthand to describe a sort of lush digital sensuality. But with HAIM, what matters is the vocals themselves — the way one will take the lead and the other two will answer her parts back, or the ways that the voices will rhythmically push the music around into some unexpected places. And then there’s “My Song 5,” which is built on a gut-scraping computerized dubstep fuzz-bass but which never does anything obvious with it. And even when those more recent sounds aren’t apparent, they never sound like hacky ’70s-rock revivalists. Those older sounds, for them, are just a means, never an end unto themselves.

Their sound might be a hard thing to pin down, but it’s just impossibly easy to enjoy. Consider “Falling,” which sounded great at first and which has now grown on me to the point where I think it’s one of the year’s fullest and most accomplished pop songs. It’s an intricate song: The primly snappy backing vocals, the liquid rhythm section, the expertly-placed wafts of keyboard, the bluesily tossed-off guitar leads. But if you aren’t paying close attention, you aren’t noticing all the small and minute decisions that go into a song like this. You’re letting it wash over you, breathing it in, feeling the way it sighs and flutters. It’s a product of countless hours of tinkering and arrangement and studio work, and yet it sounds effortless. So does the rest of the album. It’s not an album that tries to push pop music forward or to carve out new subgenre space of its own. Instead, it’s an album that uses the entire history of pop music as a playground where none of the equipment is off-limits. They’ve made an album for road trips and Saturday-afternoon house-cleanings, one where you catch yourself singing along to the whole thing by the fourth listen even if you never made a point of learning the words. Their parents should be proud. So should they.

Days Are Gone is out 9/30 on Columbia.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Justin Timberlake’s disappointing, eager-to-please The 20/20 Experience – 2 Of 2.
• Yuck’s frontman-free sophomore joint Glow & Behold.
• Oneohtrix Point Never’s queasy synthscape R Plus Seven.
• The Blow’s giddy self-titled comeback album.
• The Field’s staring-into-infinity dance marathon Cupid’s Head.
• The self-titled debut from Ty Segall’s stoner-rock power trio Fuzz.
• The Justin Vernon-produced Blind Boys Of Alabama indie-gospel experiment I’ll Find A Way.
• Dizzee Rascal’s lighthearted grime attack The Fifth.
• Lorde’s wise kiwi teenpop debut Heroine.
• Quasi’s sprawling double album Mole City.
• Deltron 3030′s all-star nerd-rap return Event II.
• The self-titled debut from Tunde Adebimpe’s TV On The Radio side project Higgins Waterproof Magic Band.
• Moby’s collab-heavy, song-based Innocents.
• Oddisee’s psych-rap instrumental record The Beauty In It All.
• Blue Sky Black Death’s expansive electronic zone-out Glaciers.
• Polvo’s second math-rock reunion album Siberia.
• Blitzen Trapper’s psychedelic, shambling VII.
• Dr. Dog’s ramshackle bar-rocker B-Room.
• Elf Power’s fizzy psych-popper Sunlight On The Moon.
• Melt-Banana’s spazzcore comeback Fetch.
• Saint Rich’s drifting debut Beyond The Drone.
• Broken Social Scene member Brendan Canning’s solo excursion You Gots 2 Chill.
• Gambles’ quietly devastating Trust.
• Teen Daze’s spacey, ambient Glacier.
• Shark?’s punked-up debut Savior.
• Matt & Kim’s remix collection Lightning Remixes.
• RAC’s Don’t Talk To EP.

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Comments (47)
  1. Is that new In Solitude out today? That would be an album of note. Sister has member the best guitar tones I’ve ever heard.

    My wife is all about Haim right now. I’ll have to give it some time.

    When are the cool kids (P4K) going to recognize Lorde as a thing?
    I know Blitzen Trapper aren’t exactly the hottest thing right now and it does them no good for me to crap on them, but there are some severely bad songs on that record (and a couple alright ones – “Don’t Be A Stranger”).

  2. Other albums of note out this week:

    The Field – “Cupid’s Head”

    It’s just as great as “Looping State of Mind” and recalls some of finer points on “From Here We Go Sublime”

    I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever been a fan.

    • How the hell did they leave that out?

    • Aw jeez, yeah, forgot that one. Will add in. Too many goddam albums this week.

    • Yes, Cupid’s Head is just as strong as the rest of The Field’s already great body of work. It will get some shit from critics for not being as adventurous as his previous two albums, but I am a big supporter of the whole “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality a la The National, or in this case The Field. That’s not to say that it’s completely formulaic, though. It is a lot moodier than his previous albums, and also feels a lot more focused. If you liked anything by him in the past you will like this album.

  3. Pitchfork really dropped the ball with their Yuck review. The new album is great. And they even dissed Lush, Teenage Fanclub, and The Lemonheads in the process, WTF?

    • Ian Cohen. That guy… Man, you all know how he is. His review style is the easiest out of all of their writers to dismiss due to its calculated way of burning down hypier bands and but then giving too much credit to bands that aren’t that great. He’s definitely the guy who kills off a band’s cool, and then gives some lesser known band a high score all because they haven’t caught on yet with a bigger audience. Take for example that Crash of Rhinos album he gave an 8.1 to. Yes, it’s great that emo revivalism is alive, but having given that album a few listens, Crash of Rhinos sound like all of the emo bands sitting in my CD collection circa early ’00s, which is to say they don’t do anything particularly interesting to set them apart in the music world. Not saying they don’t deserve an 8.1, but if that gets an 8.1, then No Age’s latest should be right up there as well.

      • The problem with Glow and Behold is not necessarily the album, but what it needs to live itself up to. Hard to top their debut no matter who is lead.

      • Dang michael_, I wish you picked a different album. I actually really quite like that Crash Of Rhinos (perhaps because it sounds so much like that late-90s/early 00s stuff aka that stuff Pitchfork made its name trashing unrepentantly). But yes, I think Cohen is the quintessential “what’s wrong with P4K” writer, even when I agree with him.

      • YEAH seriously fuck Ian Cohen. I have zero familiarity with Crash of Rhinos so I can’t really comment on that, but you are right on with his overall calculated style, where his reviews seem less about the actual music and more about hype surrounding a band or him jerking off to his own influence as a music critic. I remember reading his review of Youth Lagoon’s second album while listening to it, and he gave it something ridiculously high like an 8.7 and yet…..two paragraphs into the review I still hadn’t found one part that actually talked about the actual music of the album aside from a few pseudo intellectual sentences that used big words but said absolutely nothing when you actually broke them down. During all of this I am listening to the album that he is claiming puts fucking Youth Lagoon in the ranks of Modest Mouse (LOL) and I’m like, the album’s not bad, but he doesn’t even seem to care much about the music on it so why is he hyping it like its the fucking Lonesome Crowded West? “What’s wrong with Pitchfork,” indeed.

      • Awwww shit Ian Cohen hate thread? lemme get in hurrr

        Whats most upsetting to me is that Pitchfork seems to rely heavily on Cohen to review the more anticipated or bigger name albums that are released. For a publication with a very high influence (whether people want to admit it or not) I find it irresponsible for them to dole so much power out to one man. Also is it not reasonable to assume that bribery attempts have been made for high level critics like himself?

        I also find it rare to leave his reviews without feeling like he is indulging in some god-like role of making or breaking artists based on his completely subjective opinions. His scoring seems erratic and largely based off of current trends and the context of the album’s release. I’ve noticed that Pitchfork reviews as a whole have improved over the past few years and they have become more objective than their reputation suggests, but Ian Cohen hasn’t changed one bit and is probably the only writer they have that manages to consistently piss me off and defile the brand name.

        Bottom line: I’m not convinced Ian Cohen is actually a person but really a pen name by the Illuminati to control the independent music scene. OPEN YOUR EYES PEOPLE

        • These are exactly my thoughts. Any album that could possibly be panned with some controversy (translating into page hits) but not with enough controversy to be against a major cultural consensus is handed off to Cohen for his trademark hatchet work. (Ian Cohen is the original Hatchet Man, my ninjas.)

          P.S. Everyone with a passing interest in Franz Ferdinand should give Right Thoughts some room to breathe. That is a great album despite Ian “I see loathing incarnate when I stare into a mirror” Cohen’s joyless thrashing.

      • This is all I could think of when I read Crash of Rhinos:

    • Oh, god…I have purposely not been to Pitchfork today, because I had a premonition that today they would post their Yuck review and it would not be great. I haven’t heard the album yet but the two tracks I have heard have been flawless.

    • I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Yuck album (though “Georgia” was a PRIME YLT homage), but I was pretty damn surprised that they got demoted to 3rd review status so quick, with material in the interim between the debut and now. Oh fickle tastemakers…

    • Coehn gave Monomania an 8.3. That album is clearly a 9 at least. For this, he should die.

  4. Old is an Album that came out this week, right?
    probably the best one, too.

  5. Danny Brown?…

  6. The music is alright, but I dunno — The proud parent thing is a bit much if only because their careers were predetermined from an early age altogether in a less evil Toddlers and Tiaras kind of way. From the band with their parents to the Columbia-signed manufactured girl group called Valli Girl that two of the sisters were part before HAIM, this is a familiar indie image crafting tale a la Lizzy Grant becoming Lana Del Rey with perhaps more transparency and less trainwreck. If their music wasn’t all too good, I bet people would be tearing into them for being fake Hollywood by-products.

    Also, has anyone else noticed how many “indie” releases these days come out on the likes of Columbia and Republic Records?

    • Haven’t you heard? Indie is dead.

      • So, let me get this straight. Bands that fly under the radar, branch out, grow and then build something together on their own isn’t OK anymore? We must find this minuscule window to now dig a band, then after their sophomore album catches real fire and cracks radio’s thin armor, we toss them aside as transparent flashes in the pan?

        I don’t see this band like that at all….this is a pretty cool trio of girls here. I venture to lump them in with the likes of Frankie Rose, Best Coast, Cults, Hospitality only more jangly and even a little Cat Power emulsified in there in terms of debuts rather than Del Rey & Lizzy Grant…not entirely from a musical perspective but merely based upon their overall disposition and identity.

        Like them or not (which is cool) this album is as hooky as I’ve heard and there’s a real depth to their bubblegum surface. I’m not even a real big fan of the album anyway, but ya gotta root for bands like these girls. They put fun into a recycled sound. Great AOTW choice.

        • I only meant the term “indie” is dead. What does that even mean anymore? This is another discussion for another day though….

          I very much agree with your take on HAIM. I didn’t like them at first. I thought they were a little too cocky for their own good, and I just didn’t see their musical appeal. However, I gave this album a listen anyway and I have come to love it.

          “Days Are Gone” is a rare gem of a pop album that sounds natural and spirited. You’re spot on when you say there’s real depth here.

        • I’m with you mr. alien. Although I really do like the album. These young ladies have some chops and a hell of an ear for a good hook. And as someone pointed out in the article last week on the NPR First Listen, they’ve got this awesome Michael Jackson-y rhythmic singing thing going on, and when listening to this album it’s hard to not focus on how awesome that aspect of their music is.

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  8. I think if people spent more time with the new OPN album, it would be getting more attention. It’s a difficult album, but once you start piecing all of it together, holy shit is it amazing!

  9. Okay maybe this is interesting to nobody but me and/or everybody else already knew this, but I was so curious yesterday as to why a million billion albums were dropping ON A MONDAY. Is there some age-old superstition dooming your album to commercial and critical failure if it comes out on the First of October? Did every musician agree their album had more of a “late summer” than “early fall” feel and so rushed to give it a corresponding release date?

    But some light googling revealed what is actually a rather obvious and boring solution to this puzzle: “For the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards, albums must be released between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013.” So, there you have it. As much as society collectively seems to agree these awards dealies are bullsh, they’re still powerful enough to move dozens of artists (labels) to break the traditional rules of album releasing. At least it gave me lots of new listening on a rather dull and dreary Monday.

    Did everybody already know that? Am I the dumbest?

    Also +++ to this album of the week pick, I support it.

    • No, you’re the smartest. These past two weeks have been heavy release weeks, and I had it figured that everyone was pushing everything out before October 1st because it’s almost time to start piecing together year-end lists and it was a prime time to get into every critics head or something (whose opinions are more valuable than Grammys, to a certain extent, dependent on who is putting together the list. Thanks for sleuthing!

    • THANK YOU for the explanation! Everyone releasing their albums yesterday left me curious as well – not that I’m complaining as it was nice to have new music on a Monday – and I just never got around to researching why. I suppose that reason makes sense…. even if it is a little eyeroll inducing.

      This is an amazing week for new releases tho, that’s for sure: Danny Brown, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Field, Deltron 3030, Yuck, Haim and even Lorde, who’s album I wasn’t expecting to like, surprised me. My work week has been rather pleasant with such a good soundtrack of new tunes.

    • Haha. Makes total sense, hadn’t thought of that.

  10. So Chrvrches last week, and now HAIM…it’s not like I think either band is particularly bad, actually they have a couple of catchy songs. But there’s not much else there. The commenter above wondering where all the Lorde love is seems on point, really, how is this kind of music much different?

    I never understood all the hype for hipster R+B last year, and I am similarly puzzled by indie rock’s current obsession with keyboard-drenched pop music.

    • I agree with what you’re saying. HAIM’s album isn’t bad at all, rather enjoyable, and I can say the same thing with Chvrches. It is rather strange, though, how the general sphere of internet music hype has become so enraptured with keyboard/computer pop, and in a selectively elitist fashion. I haven’t noticed much difference in the basic structure of Lorde’s music from the above mentioned, yet she gets torn down on publications such as this and other places. It does seem, at least to me, to stem from who made her popular, and who made these bands popular.

      I suppose I’m asking for a bit more of a levelheaded approach, without such an obvious bias in where comments and critiques are coming from.

  11. I just gotta say I wholeheartedly agree with this choice as album of the week. After waiting nearly a year for it to drop, this thing kind of blew my mind, and I was already expecting it to be good. Like Tom said, there isn’t a weak track on the thing. There is so much goodness goin on. Not only do I hear MJ in their grooves, but noticeably in their very rhythmic vocal styles. It boggles my mind that anyone can dislike this thing. Those of you in doubt, listen again.

    Forget hype, forget bias, just soak it in and you’ll find yourself doing the Simon.

  12. I have a feeling The Field’s album will have a longer shelf life, but the HAIM album is an easy pick. Those are some very sharp songs.

  13. yeah this album is fantastic!

    and um does anyone else hear Shania Twain and Amy Grant in the lead vocals??

    • Haha I hadn’t noticed the Amy Grant until my wife pointed it out. It’s totally there though, especially on songs like If I Could Change Your Mind (killer track, by the way)

  14. I’m having a bit of a hard time getting overly excited about HIAIM so far – I listened to them a bit and they sounded fine, but not much more. That said, I will get around to checking them out a bit more before I write them off. So far, from the limited listens I’ve given things, the Fuzz album is my favorite on the week. Dr. Dog, who I know are auto-hated by people who use the internet, improved on their last one, which I was happy to see, even if it’s nowhere near Shame, Shame level, which was legit awesome.

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