There are many things that feel incredibly refreshing about Los Angeles sister-act Haim, but perhaps the most refreshing is their backstory. Much has been made of it during their quick-paced rise to festival-staple status, most likely because music media secretly loves a good story just as much as TMZ. But with Alana, Este and Danielle Haim, the story isn’t about heartbreak or betrayal or even rags-to-riches; there was no jilted escape to Wisconsin and certainly no ambiguity as to the true nature of their relations. These were three sisters who had played music together their entire lives, for some of it with their parents in a covers-only band delightfully named Rockinhaim. Unlike the Gallaghers, they are all incredibly close and in interviews they come across as intelligent, insightful and exciting. Their story is sweet and smile-inducing and entirely devoid of drama; it is feel-good to its core, and, listening to Days Are Gone, it makes perfect sense.
2012 was a huge year for the band, supporting artists as diverse as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Ke$ha and independently releasing their self-titled three-track EP before signing with Polydor records in the UK and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint in the States. 2013 started just as well for them, topping the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll before going on to play two sets at Glastonbury, and now finally their debut album has arrived on Columbia Records to fanfare and massively high expectations.
Days Are Gone certainly lives up to those expectations, although it might not be the album everyone had been expecting. Early reports had them pegged as a 70s- and 80s-blues-inspired guitar rock group. Instead they’ve released quite possibly the best pop album of the year. Early singles ‘Forever’ and ‘Don’t Save Me’ did play into those initial expectations, but even then their poppiest sensibilities were on full display. ‘Don’t Save Me’ quickly has its rolling guitar line overpowered by swirling synths and Daniela’s powerful upper-register, and the song is a sing-along standout. Geoff Barrow of Portishead recently tweeted ‘Haim sounds like Shania Twain … when did this become a good thing?’ Funnily enough, ‘Don’t Save Me’ does sound a lot like a Shania Twain song, as does follow-up singles ‘The Wire’, which bears striking resemblance to ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’. But in one tweet, Barrow succeeds not in discrediting Haim, but rather in painting himself wickedly out of touch in 2013. Undeniably, the same elements that put him out of touch are what are driving Haim forward; a huge part of their success lies in timing. They’re making music in an age where ‘sounds like Shania Twain’ isn’t a de facto insult, where full-on guitar rock bands are on the wane and poptimists abound, and they’ve emerged as the soundtrack to this all.
Trying to peg down their sound is a difficult task. Having had years of experience covering acts like Billy Joel and Santana in the family band, it’s easy to spot classic influences. And while Fleetwood Mac is most-often mentioned in relation to them (propelled no doubt by their frequent covers of Stevie Nicks et al) they far more frequently cite 90s RnB like TLC and Destiny’s Child. Jessie Ware, herself riffing on 90s RnB and in the midst of a similar upwards trajectory career-wise, is a contributor and co-wrote the album’s title track.
Despite the numerous and disparate influences, every track on Days Are Gone sounds invigoratingly unique. There is not a single dud; it is thrillingly tight, immaculately produced but with more than enough life and left-field quirk for it never to feel soulless or thin. ‘Days Are Gone’, a straight-up pop smash, moves into ‘My Song 5’, a track filled only by Danielle’s pitched-down voice, drums and a bass sound that Skrillex would thumbs-up before turning way up. ‘The Wire’ is an ode to the end of a relationship, with clap-drums, a sumptuous mid-tempo melody, Beach Boys-sounding guitar and lines like ‘It felt right, it felt right/ But I fumbled it when it came down to the wire.’ The album comes across as a compilation of so many road trip songs for a generation once more enamoured by the idea of cross country drives, one that is finally shedding the apathetic and anhedonia-laden ‘cool’ of the previous decade.
Days Are Gone is one of the most assured debut albums for a long while. They all have huge experience that belies their age. Danielle has toured as a guitarist with The Strokes’ Julian Cassablancas and played in Cee-Lo Green’s back-up band. But their ultimate attribute is how at home they sound playing together. Instruments and voices combine with accomplished ease to create some of the most soulful and upbeat music of the year. These are accomplished musicians making the kind of music that they grew up with, and they’re doing a damn good job of it.