Review: New album from L.A. breakout stars Haim makes you believe rock might have a future
In the music video for “Want You Back,” the lead single from their long-awaited new album, the three sisters of Haim saunter down a deserted Ventura Boulevard, air-drumming as they pass the sushi joints and car dealerships of their native San Fernando Valley.
The video’s early morning shoot may have been the most alone time they’ve enjoyed since 2013. That’s when Haim released its hit debut, “Days Are Gone,” which after years of hard work around Los Angeles finally launched this crafty family band to stardom — and to highly visible relationships with a diverse array of pop luminaries.
Taylor Swift befriended the sisters and took them on tour. Calvin Harris put them on a thumping EDM track. Morris Day even recruited the trio to help him perform “Jungle Love” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Everywhere you turned, Haim was the life of someone’s party.
Now the group is back with “Something to Tell You,” which features contributions by what seems like half of L.A.’s musical community, including producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij and first-call instrumentalists such as Greg Leisz and Lenny Castro.
For all the voices in the mix, though, “Something to Tell You,” due Friday, still feels defined by the unique bond that connects singer-guitarist Danielle Haim, bassist Este Haim and guitarist-keyboardist Alana Haim, who grew up playing music in a family band with their parents. The record makes you believe in the image in the “Want You Back” video of three women sharing a vivid private language.
It also makes you believe that rock might have a future (even if it’s only the genre’s past). On “Days Are Gone,” Haim looked back to the polished sound of vintage Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, and here the sisters continue to rely on guitars and the like at a moment when many of their peers have little use for them.
In the title track they layer their vocals over a needling riff that recalls Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” (a frequent Haim touchstone), while the sparkling “You Never Knew” could pass for an outtake from “Tango in the Night.” Elsewhere, “Kept Me Crying” rides a driving groove with real grit around its edges; “Right Now” starts quietly but erupts about a minute in with distorted power chords.
You can tell the members of Haim care about their perception as players. Sometimes they’ll keep the buzz of an amplifier in a song or crank a slap-bass part as high as most bands crank the lead singer. And in another of the album’s videos, for “Right Now,” director Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera roves around a musty-looking recording studio in a nearly unbroken shot that’s essentially saying, “See, no tricks!” (Warning: The end of the video contains coarse language.)
Yet Haim is hardly a purist’s operation; the group pairs its devotion to old-fashioned technique with a true love for the artificial magic of modern record-making. Weird synth effects, jumpy digital edits, funny robot voices — they’re all part of the precisely calibrated production on “Something to Tell You,” which draws more than “Days Are Gone” did from disco and R&B.
One highlight of the album is “Ready for You,” a frothy electro-soul jam the sisters cowrote with George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow. And the sultry “Walking Away” replaces live drums with a programmed beat.
Given the time and the resources the band had to spend on this record, it’s not surprising that Haim goes overboard a couple of times, piling cool sounds onto songs — the string-backed “Found It in Silence,” for instance — that aren’t sturdy enough to support them.
Even when that happens, though, you’re not hearing a lack of personality; Haim never surrenders its quirks to fit a streamlined idea of Top 40 pop. Throughout “Something to Tell You” the women deploy their signature vocal approach — a kind of syncopated percussive delivery with more than a little hip-hop in it — while Danielle’s lyrics address big themes with off-kilter specificity.
“They said you’d be like all the other guys,” she sings in “Ready for You,” one of many tunes here about romantic turmoil. Then she memorably zeroes in on the charge: “Two-faced but too numb to know it / Telling your pretty lies.”
With sisters like hers, who’d need such an unfeeling mister?
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