A review of the indisputably popular and defiantly trendy HAIM sisters debut album Days are Gone, from Roman Romano on the lovely Listen Before you Buy who says words much better then I say words....
Without a doubt, Haim have been one of the most consistently talked-about bands over the past year. Bursting onto the scene early last year with a free EP – one I was so blessedly directed to by friend of the blog, Disco Naïveté – and quickly garnering the attention of the music press on both sides of the Atlantic.
And while the hysteria spread – even the kind ejaculated by the terrifyingly ferocious British hype machine or the endless circle jerk of music critics – the band flourished rather well, dropping just the right number of releases to entice excitement without giving the whole show away. Prior to release, 6 songs have been put out – out of a total of 11 – but what Haim and their debut album,Days Are Gone, excel at is that the band are masters at keeping things fresh. Take for example how the band incorporate a plethora of different sounds and inspirations, and pull it off with ease, or how they release an album, more than 50% of which has already been heard and still manage a few surprises.
The album is a rather spectacular one for a debut – the trio that is the Haim sisters go from strength to strength on Days Are Gone, wielding melody, personality and energy with remarkably dexterous skill. Opening with a trio of their highest charting songs to date, Haim’s unsubtle power-play is a fiercely robust if not commendably admirable attempt at making an impact – a big one. Beginning with “Falling” and “Forever”, the latter often referred to as the hit that started it all, Haim’s one-two punch is magnificently potent as well as brilliantly played out from a strategic stand-point: pulling in newcomers with the tremendous force of these two pop-rock behemoths, while cementing goodwill with old fans and passive listeners alike. Then there’s recent single, “The Wire” with its oh-so-Shania Twain swagger bringing an earthier twang to the mix. But whilst opening with a particularly strong high, this introductory trio is no domineering triumvirate, nor is the rest of Days Are Gone solely dependent on this trinity.
It’s an almost faultlessly strong album with respect to its musicality, drawing from and effectively applying to their songs a vast range of influences and styles: rhythmic funk (“The Wire”), tropical guitars and bopping (“Honey & I”), girl-group R&B (Viva TLC!) and ’70s inflected soft pop-rock (“Don’t Save Me”) among others. Fronted by middle sister and stupendous guitar-playerDanielle, the album’s raunchiest moments (“Falling” has a wicked guitar solo) as well as its most tender highlights (see the outstanding “Go Slow”) are given expressivity and earnest conviction.Danielle’s richer, rounder vocals are joined by bassist and eldest sibling Este’s supplementary vocals on a few tracks or on backing vocals with Alana Haim such as on the title track. “My Song 5” represents such a departure from Haim’s stylistic flair for sweet harmonies and lush melodies, opting instead for a grungier approach and an altogether different style, but the mix of attitude-filled, trudging-through-tar guitar riffage and the honeyed vocal dynamics a la Destiny’s Childat the bridge is one of the album’s most inspired achievements.
Evidently, growing up in a musically rich home and having it play a part of their lives from such an early age (the Haim family unit played as a band as early as when the girls were in single digits) has played a significant role in heightening the Haim sisters’ musical awareness and understanding. But what feels wrong with Haim is that even while they get the sound pristinely perfect, crafting melodies impeccable to the very dot, the soul and spirit of the sounds the band emulate and incorporate feels off-center; it’s not so much a struggle to empathize with the era from which they draw from but how they haven’t quite nailed the essence of the sound they channel. The sound is so, so very right but the feeling lacks where it should. On “The Wire”, Danielle sings “You know I’m bad at communication, it’s the hardest thing for me to do”, and for a moment, it’s almost believable.
Yet, there’s an air of easy-going half-heartedness that circulates throughout Days Are Gone; it may have hindered the band from stamping down on the vibe but it’s also cultivated on record and on stage the charm the Haim sisters possess: one free of sneering cynicism or hollow pretentiousness. And that’s arguably a better trade-off. In a live setting, the Haim sisters are as entertaining with their on-stage banter as they are with their music; exuding charisma and character and radiating a rather genuine veneer of familiarity and that warmth definitely becomes present on Days Are Gone. Breakup brute “The Wire” is, on paper, a terribly harsh song – the sisters ending it with their beaus with a dismissively pitiless “I just know, I know that you’re gonna be okay anyway.” But here it’s said teasingly, tongue-in-cheek and it’s how Haim retain their element of fun, that fresh fun and still come off as nice people.
Haim are good, that’s not open to discussion. The band’s music is also rather good, something not especially hard to notice. They’re talented through and through, brilliant on record, engaging in a live setting and downright fun. But what Haim aren’t are the saviours to the current state of music (we need a much more powerful Messiah FYI), nor are they the year’s brightest gem. How much of the praise so far garnered is credit where credit is due and how much of it is overblown excitement purporting the overrated nature of Haim’s music is a valid question worth asking but what’s more of a less ambiguous topic of discussion is whether or not Haim have anything worth praising. That is a much easier question. And the answer is yes. Haim isn’t the gold standard, the Promethean pioneer that trailblazes forward or the North Star that guides the lost. They’re just a band that are very good at what they do, and granted they’re much more than your average band, but anything more than that feels too much. But on Days Are Gone, the band prove to be shockingly good at penning a great tune as well as living up to the potential of pop excellence that first EP promised; giving that and a lot more.
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