by Roy Manuell
If there was ever a time to justifiably use the word ‘hype’ it’d be now, alliteratively and deservedly attributed to the three-piece indie outfit, Haim. Following the critical success of early singles ‘Forever’ and ‘Don’t Save Me’, their label Polydor put the three girls (Este, Danielle and Alana) under intense pressure over the course of 2013 to produce their debut album.
The term ‘cool’ too is grossly overused these days, but on this very special occasion, Haim comfortably earn such a description. There’s just something about their girl-gang, popped-collar appearance that evokes excitement similar to that surrounding The Strokes’ arrival a decade or so ago. While they effortlessly hold the image, and have celebrity admirers ranging from Mumford & Sons to the Arctic Monkeys, one question remains: can they write?
Days Are Gone opens like a series finale; dramatic, exotic drums pounding around mysterious synthesizers that echo as ‘Falling’ confidently announces the album’s introduction. Nicely juxtaposed with the second track, ‘Forever’, their first single from 2012, the record already feels like a teenage forest retreat: carefree and hopeful for the future. Fittingly, Haim can certainly afford to be.
Comparisons with Stevie Nicks vindicated, Days Are Gone is subtle, clever and catchy: three components that seem about as hard to find in the current, commercially-endorsed industry as a Brit award that Adele hasn’t already won. If you were expecting Este, Danielle or Alana Haim to roar like Katie Perry or moan like Rihanna then you’ll be bitterly disappointed with their debut.
At times, though, it feels like there is something lacking on the album. Lyrically simple and rhythmically certain throughout, the record never really explodes, but maybe this is why the album works so well. Its youthful attraction lies in its ability to utterly embody every eighteen-year-old’s utopian vision of how it’ll feel to be nineteen. Perhaps the best example of this is on the third track and highlight of the album, ‘The Wire’, where there is a recognisably-uplifting electricity that courses through every song. This is propelled by the prominence of ethnomusicologist Este’s bass, leading each track onto the next with shameless harmony.
Young love and emotional frustration lyrically dominate, lead singer Danielle purring “You know there’s no rhyme or reason/For the way you turned out to be” before the vocals oscillate between the three girls, toying with our attention and demonstrating the sheer versatility of the group.
It is, plainly put, an interesting first record. Sonically unique, but also refreshing: a sister act of three charismatic individuals proving to the musical world that girls don’t need boys to write their songs for them. This follows the thoughts of a famous friend of theirs, Alex Turner, who recently commented that “there aren’t any exciting new alternative bands out there.” Well there are exceptions to every rule, aren’t there Mr Turner?
The title track on Days Are Gone is darker, losing a little of the smile-provoking Haim spark, but it provides an effective moment of contrast with the first half of the album, a frustrated organ hovering in the background. Still, it reflects the melodic essence of the band through its lyrical simplicity, “Holding on, holding on/These days are gone,” before a surprisingly effective Destiny’s Child-inspired bridge slips past. No wonder Jay Z’s a fan. ‘My Song 5’ then introduces itself with an opening that wouldn’t sound out of place in The Phantom of the Opera, as the trio continue to combine R&B, rock and roll, and even dubstep on this number. It should be a car-crash but somehow they make it work. Perhaps some credit here is due to the excellent Ariel Rechtshaid production work on the album.
Consistency rules on Days Are Gone; all eleven songs boasting faultlessly catchy choruses that retain the credibility that places them into the category of songwriters and it wouldn’t be unrealistic to name them the coolest girl-band since B*Witched… But on a serious note, Este, Danielle and Alana will without a doubt be a welcome challenge to the patriarchal world of music (see Robin Thicke for details). Days Are Gone is not just a good group of songs; it’s a great album. Julian Casablancas once advised Haim, a handful of years ago when the three were naively wandering onto the music scene, to go away and “write some better songs.” Judge for yourself, but it looks like they went and did just that.
Photograph: Tom Beard