After a strong fully-formed debut, Haim’s second album, Something To Tell You was a disappointment. The undemanding charm of Days Are Gone slid from view as most of the songs felt like over fussy retreads and didn’t stick the same way ‘Falling’, ‘Forever’ and ‘Don’t Save Me’ did. Last July, the band released the single, ‘Summer Girl’ — the first fruits of their recording sessions for new material. ‘Summer Girl’ appears on Women In Music Pt III as a bonus track and is a perfect indication of the band heading in the right direction. The jazz-tinged swing and airy harmonies have a jam session-like quality to them. It’s an approach that’s the blueprint of their hugely improved third album, which has a cool looseness that’s perfect for this time of year.
Haim continued to release singles over the last year and they all show the band are willing to deviate from their formula. They immediately sound more comfortable than they did during the last era, where they were in an unsatisfying holding pattern. ‘Now I’m In It’ (here as another bonus track) came out in October and is another delight. The similarities to Savage Garden’s ‘I Want You’ in the verse are hard to ignore, but the infectious synth-pop-flecked rhythm is one of their best. The recent single, ‘Don’t Wanna’, has a sunny, restrained groove that’s inspired and sounds completely organic.
Haim have often revealed their spirits are rooted in the 70s, similar to Lana Del Rey . There were subtly tucked away hints of Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac on Days Are Gone. They’ve fully embraced that influence on songs such as ‘The Steps’ (especially the drum sound on the most vigorous songs on Tusk) and ‘Leaning On You’. The latter even has a plucked acoustic guitar intro that’s similar to ‘Never Going Back Again’ on Rumours.
There’s an obvious debt to Joni Mitchell (especially her vocal style on Hejira) in Danielle’s vocals on ‘Man From the Magazine’. Their unapologetic love of the 70s gives this album retro tendencies, but the unexpected production techniques from Rostam and Ariel Rechtshaid keep their approach fresh. Take the 70s glam stomp of ‘Up From a Dream’, which has a lo-fi crunch and eerie fragmented backing vocals, with bursts of fuzzy guitars of which St. Vincent would be proud. The results often leave things rough around the edges, complementing the relaxed songwriting.
In the album’s most experimental moments, Haim dip into new musical territories. ‘3AM’ is a delicious 90s R&B throwback that approaches the G-Funk sound sprinkled over hip-hop in the early 90s. ‘Another Try’ has a reggae tilt that’s a blend of No Doubt and Ace Of Base, and works better than it should as the brass carries the song’s joyful second half. ‘I Know Alone’ is another curveball with its Arthur Russell-esque strings, glitchy two-step rhythm and distorted vocals.
In recent interviews the sisters revealed they’ve gone through hard personal issues in the last few years. ‘Gasoline’ has a sweetness to its beautiful melody, but has poignant lyrics addressing Danielle’s depression, “I get sad, you know I’ve been sad and I can’t look past what I’m sad about”. The dreamy ballad ‘Hallelujah’ deals with the heartbreaking death of Alana’s best friend — “I had a best friend but she has come to pass, one I wish I could see now. You always remind me that memories will last”. The self-explanatory ‘I’ve Been Down’ has a bright 90s alt pop feel as Danielle asks, “can you help me out?”. They confront their struggles at the same time as opening up to new sounds and influences that are still unmistakably them. These songs have a therapeutic energy.
Women In Music Pt III is a victory because it zips by, despite having 16 songs (including the vital bonus tracks). Despite some despairing themes, the breeziness finds Haim rescuing themselves from their sophomore slump with apparent ease. There’s so much character, sonic variety and instantly loveable melodies throughout. In broadening their range and shying away from convention, Haim have become the band they promised to be from those glorious early singles.