Album Review: Haim – Days Are Gone

Los Angeles – The ‘90s are back. If a trip to Urban Outfitters doesn’t convince you, this album will. Haim (pronounced High-im) is comprised of sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, 27, 24 and 21 respectively, and drummer Dash Hutton, and you’ve probably heard whisperings of them for at least a few months now.  Already well-known and embraced by the music community, Haim has toured with the likes of xx, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Florence and the Machine.  Before releasing their first EP “Forever” in 2012, Danielle played guitar and drums first on Jenny Lewis’s tour and then on Julian Casablancas’ (The Strokes) solo tour.  Casablancas told the sisters when they were starting out, “disappear, come back in a year with stronger songs and hit the ground running.”

It appears they took his advice.  This summer Haim, who grew up jamming in their family band and each play multiple instruments, finished a European tour and played three separate shows at Glastonbury Festival (one as guests of Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream.)  They’ve been called the “favourite band in America” by The New Yorker, and a band to watch by Fuse TV and just about everyone else.  But while clearly media darlings and the most obvious marketing gold, this is not a band to be taken lightly or dismissed as the next vapid pop machine.

“Days Are Gone,” to be released Sept. 30, is as interesting as it is unexpected.  The album draws from so many musical influences it’s almost impossible to identify who they sound like. The Eurythmics? Sinead O’Connor? Amy Grant, En Vogue, Michael Jackson? This album is so reminiscent of early ‘90s pop/R&B it is actually startling; on first listen you might do a double take and examine your medium before continuing.  But in spite of being so reminiscent (there’s also a bit of Queen and Bob Seger in there, too), Haim, now managed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, somehow manages to be very unique. 

A strangely dichotomous album, simultaneously light, serious, simple, complex, it has an almost a cappella feel to it. All the songs could be performed with just vocals and drums and you might barely notice. But it’s complex in the way the instruments and back-up vocals are layered together. There is an intricacy and randomness to it that is unexpected, minimalistic, eclectic, elemental, jungle-like. It feels like music you could make in your garage with a bunch of random tools, or like elements of a stew.  A pinch of this, a dash of that, one can’t help but muse at their collaboration process.

The vocals are also alarmingly mature for a group known for their youth, long hair and L.A. roots. Danielle performs the bulk of the vocals and while lyrics are definitely not their emphasis, her voice sounds like that of a seasoned older woman. Not raspy or throaty, just experienced, like she’s seen the world. And, they have a breathy quality to them. The vocals feel like they are hovering just above the mic, in the foreground of the song. You can almost see them hanging cloud-like in the air.

The whole album has an improv feel to it. The songs speed up, then slow down, then speed way up, then slow down, crescendo, then stop and go minimal. The guitar is a subtle accompaniment throughout, but the songs where it is featured more prominently definitely benefit.  This is evident in tracks two and three, highlights of the album, although it’s a tough call because there is much to admire throughout.

On the whole, it feels real, un-auto-tuned, un-manufactured. This might be one of those secret dance albums that everyone has, and in 20 years the next generation will be dusting it off in their studio apartments and having dance parties with friends, calling it a classic. It is less a collection of songs and more a blanketed improvisation of love, moving on and heartbreak. The theme is resounding and complete. It plays like chapters in a book.  On first listen the songs are nearly indistinguishable, but the more you listen the more insightful and inspired they become. “Go Slow” is a song that really penetrates the psyche once you can discern what they are saying, which in general is a hard task all the way through. But by the third listen, you know the bulk of it.

It is a promising debut for an already famed band, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here and what influences will come in to play on future albums.

Check out “Forever,” which features one of the most poignant, insightful moments on the album.  Other essential tracks include “The Wire,” “Honey & I,” “Don’t Save Me,” “Days Are Gone” and “Go Slow.”

For more on Haim check out their website, our Featured Artist piece and our Interview with Este.

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