The award for the most highly-anticipated debut album this year probably goes to Lorde for her album Pure Heroine. But second place easily goes to HAIM, the group made up of sisters Este (born March 14, 1986), Danielle (born February 16, 1989) and Alana Haim (born December 15, 1991), along with drummer Dash Hutton. As evidence, I offer up this fact: the Los Angeles area group earned a top ranking in BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll before their album was even released, this on the strength of their EPs and many live performances, which included a high profile gig at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. And the group are now signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management group, which hardly deals with small potatoes.
I’ve previously reviewed the album’s tracks “Forever” and “Go Slow” here: http://www.loveispop.com/reviews/haim-forever-ep/ These have been slightly remixed for the album, but certainly not to any degree that necessitates re-evaluating them. I also reviewed their stellar songs “Let Me Go” and “The Wire” here: http://www.loveispop.com/reviews/review-haim-let-me-go-the-wire/. But, somehow, I failed to review the album’s sleek opening track, “Falling,” this even though I’d purchased the EP of the same name from iTunes. To that end, “Falling” starts off with a simple, pulsating beat, but it’s somewhat deceptive, you see, as most of the beats on the album are quite MASSIVE. In fact, if I’m being entirely honest, there are moments when the girls’ gorgeous voices are actually upstaged by the beats, but that doesn’t make their songs any less engaging and these songs pack some of the strongest hooks I’ve heard in a long, long time. “I hurl into the moment like I’m standing at the edge (I know),” begins “Falling,” and it couldn’t be any more fitting. While the album is crammed with ’80’s and ’90’s R&B influences — not to mention shards of country, folk and Americana — it is, ultimately, very right *now.* In fact, it’s so very right now that it’ll surely be looked at as one of this era’s defining moments in pop music in the years to come. The amazing thing is that it often manages to sound wholly futuristic and retro at the same time, not unlike Beyoncé’s criminally underrated album 4. Unfortunately for Beyoncé, most people couldn’t wrap their heads around 4 when it was released. Funny how just a couple of years later a group of young women can come out with such a similar album and everyone drools all over it. I guess it just goes to show you how much success in the music business can rely on timing.
Of the album’s six other tracks, the most interesting is easily “My Song 5,” which meshes raw guitar with sonorous, industrial-tinged beats, warped synth and… tamborine. This is one of those tracks where the girls’ voices take a backseat to the beats, which are considerably louder than the vocals in the mix of much of the experimental song. Surprisingly, some of the vocals here sound auto-tuned while others sound like they were processed with a vocoder. Like most of the songs on the album, it was co-produced by the sisters alongside Ariel Rechtshaid (Usher, Vampire Weekend, Charli XCX), who also co-wrote the track with them.
Another fascinating listen is the title track, “Days Are Gone,” which the sisters co-wrote with Tom Hull — otherwise known as Florence + The Machine collaborator Kid Harpoon — and nu-electro-R&B songstress du jour Jessie Ware. Here, funky bass guitar meets with snappy beats and some burbling low end electro-bass that sounds like it could be sampled off of Björk’s Homogenic album. Speaking of Florence + The Machine, two of the album’s strongest tracks, the chugging “Don’t Save Me” and the jittery R&B throwback “If I Could Change Your Mind,” were produced by Florence’s frequent collaborator James Ford, who’s also known for his production work with Arctic Monkeys and Klaxons as well as his band Simian Mobile Disco. The girls’ voices are at the forefront of both of these tracks and they do some glorious harmonizing during the choruses.
Finally, I have to mention the album’s closing song, a tender ballad called “Running If You Call My Name.” If not for the hard-hitting, thudding beats, it could pass for a lost Debbie Gibson or Tiffany song from 1989. Some might argue that it’s a little too retro for comfort, especially considering the era it references, but I graduated from high school in 1991 so it fills my head with a warm sensation of nostalgia. Of course, the album is clearly informed by so many eras and genres that just about anyone who listens to it over the age of 12 is bound to feel nostalgic at some point, but it’s also one hell of an album to play while you’re making new memories in the present.