In the past two years, HAIM performed at festival mainstays such as Glastonbury and Bonnaroo, topped the BBC Sound of 2013 poll and signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management. It might be important to mention that the group accomplished all of this before releasing an actual album. In fact, before the release of the band’s debut, Days Are Gone, HAIM had only released a three-song EP and a few singles. Nonetheless, Danielle, Este and Alana Haim — three sisters from Los Angeles — have become one of the most talked-about groups in music almost overnight.
Days Are Gone
On Days Are Gone, the sisters, with their drummer Dash Hutton, not only live up to the hype, but actually exceed it. Though five of the 11 songs have already been released, the album still has the raw energy of a first record. Days Are Gone somehow manages to retain the band’s base sound — an impressive, symbiotic relationship between Fleetwood Mac, grunge and golden era 1990s R&B, all sprinkled with a heavy 1980s dance music influence — while also exploring new musical and thematic avenues.
The opening song, the single “Falling,” sets the bar for the entire album. Laced with a Chromeo-sounding synth bounce, the track builds and builds until the drop-off of the chorus, where the three girls’ voices reverberate in succession, actually creating an incredible sensation of “falling.”
As the lead singer on most songs, Danielle’s talent is not necessarily in the strength of her voice — which isn’t to say it’s weak — but instead in her somewhat-uncanny ability to make her voice just another instrument in the band’s sound. Her well-timed pauses, quick breaths, frantic shouts and hazy, rhythmic delivery are just as important to every song as Hutton’s drumming, Este’s bass or Alana’s guitar. As a result, the lyrics on Days Are Gone are not extremely complex. Still, though they focus mostly on broken hearts and typical romantic themes, the stories in these songs hold nothing back, creating clear if not palpable feelings of genuine love, heartache and living in the moment.
This added dimension of melancholy and introspection infused into seemingly happy-go-lucky summer songs is key to Days Are Gone. On “Forever,” accompanied by thumping bass and more shouting call and response, Danielle unleashes another great whisper-sung chorus, capitalized by the now expected HAIM bridge breakdown, in which she sings, angrier and angrier, “Go get out of my memory.”
Along with “Forever” and “Falling,” “The Wire” and “Don’t Save Me” were also released before the album and happen to be two of the band’s best songs. “Don’t Save Me” is the prototypical HAIM track: handclaps, reverberating vocals, thick bass, big drums and a subtle but powerful chorus chord change, punctuated with serious ’80s synths and tons of harmony.
“The Wire,” on the other hand, is the band’s strongest shot at a Top-40 breakthrough. Equipped with a heavy drum beat and vocals traded between the sisters, the song condescendingly comforts an ex, with the girls singing, “I know you’ll be okay anyway.” The end of “The Wire,” which features a stripped-down, violin-infused bridge complete with the girls singing the chorus as a round, foreshadows the musical development in the second half of the album.
With its echoing arena hook and vocals heavily reminiscent of Florence Welch, the album’s title track, the anchor of the project’s experimental second half, is part futuristic funk, part piano ballad and completely refreshing. Even more out there is “My Song 5,” a song that sounds like absolutely nothing HAIM has ever attempted. Built off a slow burning drum-and-guitar combo, the song shakes to life with an unexpected eruption of light dubstep mimicking fat synthesizers. Danielle’s vocals are sped up and slowed down throughout, the latter effect making “Honey, I’m not your honey pie” sound surprisingly frightening. “My Song 5,” which might as well be Gwen Stefani’s classic “Hollaback Girl” slowed down, put through a blender and filtered through thick smoke, is about as risk-taking as possible for HAIM. And it pays off.
For the three sisters from Los Angeles, who months ago probably couldn’t even fathom their impending success, the days are certainly not gone — they’re just getting started. And as the chants of “keep running” fade out at the end of the album’s closing track, you can’t help but feel like you’re in the final scene of the perfect John Hughes movie, full of broken hearts, isolation and a taste for what it really means to be young.