A trio of sisters from California, HAIM take their name from Este, Danielle, and Alana’s surname. The group grew up playing in a cover band, Rockinhaim, with their parents; their father Mordechai was a professional soccer player in Israel. Danielle toured as a guitarist for Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas, before forming HAIM with her sisters.
HAIM are a guitar-based band, but their songs are unabashedly full of hooks, glossed up with pop production, and their lyrics are merely vehicles for their lovely harmonies. Their first two albums felt slightly disposable to me, especially lyrically, but they significantly upped the ante with their third record, 2020’s Women in Music Part III. The group’s primary appeal for me is their three-part sibling harmonies, but Danielle’s lead vocals are also likeable and the trio are all strong musicians.
HAIM have already enjoyed plenty of attention, bridging the divide between the accessibility of radio-friendly pop and the perceived authenticity of guitar-based rock and roll. They’ve already built up a reputation as a formidable live act, while they also have personality to spare, especially Este’s notorious bass face.
Haim Album Reviews
Favourite Album: Women in Music Part III
Days Are Gone
HAIM’s debut album was eagerly anticipated after they released the ‘Forever’ EP on their website in early 2012, and were named by the BBC Sound of 2013 poll as the year’s most promising act. Their recipe of guitar-driven pop-rock and sunny sibling harmonies, backed with dance-able beats and studio candy is likeable, and the trio take flight when those glorious harmonies hit, like on the title track or ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’. Due to the long gestation, four songs from the album were released as singles before the album itself was released, and it’s tempting to look on Days Are Gone as a singles and filler album.
Days Are Gone is front-loaded, and the first four songs were all singles, including ‘Falling’, the bluesy guitar of ‘The Wire’, and ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’, which sounds like perfect 1970s AM Radio pop, but with percussion that takes inspiration from more modern R&B and pop. ‘Honey & I’ has a low-key harmonised feel that’s a little reminiscent of a Christine McVie track from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, while the album’s most left-field track, the synthetic, rhythmic ‘My Song 5’ works because it draws attention to the group’s vocals.
Days Are Gone is an assured debut, full of fun ear candy, even if it drags a little towards the end.
Something To Tell You
It took HAIM four years to follow up their debut, and it follows the same pop/rock formula as their debut. It doesn’t add depth – again, the best songs are generally the hookiest – and it’s even smoother and less edgy than their debut. It’s also more studio-oriented than their debut, and the studio candy can sometimes come across a little heavy-handed – the electronic voice manipulation on tracks like ‘Ready For You’ is initially distracting.
Opening track and single ‘Want You Back’ is the kind of effervescent pop fluff that HAIM excel at, laden with harmonies and Este’s slap bass. There are other smooth, enjoyable pop songs like ‘Little Of Your Love’ and ‘You Never Knew’, but the record’s most interesting when they stretch out with more interesting arrangements. ‘Kept Me Crying’ features a subdued arrangement that’s little more than hand-claps behind the vocals until the guitar solo hits. Something To Tell You grows calmer and more atmospheric towards the end. ‘Right Now’ is beautiful, while ‘Night So Long’ is stark with mournful vocals backed by a cavernous guitar.
While it isn’t necessarily a step forward for the band, it’s not a step backwards either – Something To Tell You is a well-constructed pop album that lacks the freshness of Days Are Gone, but is equally rewarding.
Women in Music Part III
HAIM’s first two records were fun. The trio of L.A. sisters had great harmonies, their eclectic approach recalled both Fleetwood Mac and 90s R&B, while Danielle Haim’s bluesy guitar added some edge. Their third record, however, is the biggest leap forward from any band I’ve heard this year.
Their growth was signalled – 2019 singles like ‘Summer Girl’ and ‘Now I’m In It’ showed a band with more interesting arrangements and more distinctive songwriting voices. On WIMP3 these advance singles are pushed out to bonus tracks, but the record’s so full of great material that it’s not even an issue.
Some of the lyrics on Something To Tell You we’re merely generic placeholders. Here the lyrics are grittier and sexier – on standout track ‘Gasoline’, Danielle sings “I wanna get off\But you’re such a tease” in a metaphor that’s too blatant to qualify as a double-entendre. Songs like ‘Summer Girl’ are much more emotionally charged than anything previous; in this case a vow from Danielle to support partner and producer Ariel Rechtshaid through a brush with cancer.
With Danielle, Rechtshaid, and Rostam Batmanglij all involved in the production, the record sounds great. It’s comparable to Vampire Weekend’s last two albums, but HAIM’s different set of influences gives it a distinctive flavour. There’s some surprising diversity here – the 1990s R&B tribute of ‘3am’, the reggae guitar and Mariachi trumpet of ‘Another Try’, and the raw acoustic ‘Man From The Magazine’ are three obvious examples – yet the production crystallises these songs into a unified whole. The trio’s vocals sound great as well – Este’s keening voice and Alana’s gentle tones both add personality to the mix.
Even though it feels more substantial than past HAIM albums, WIMP3 still floats by happily with its pretty tunes. Effervescent pop/rock like ‘Don’t Wanna’ and ‘The Steps’ would have been standouts on their precious records. The standout though is the advance single ‘Now I’m In It’, with its glistening electronic feel. Playing the record on repeat, ‘Summer Girl’ ends the record on the same trumpet lick that ‘Los Angeles’ starts with.
WIMP3 is an excellent record, upgrading HAIM from charming newcomers to artistic heavyweights.
10 Best HAIM Songs
Now I’m In It
If I Could Change Your Mind
Kept Me Crying
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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