Haim Days Are Gone

[Columbia; 2013]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: soft rock, pop, R&B
Others: Feist, Grimes, Wilson Phillips, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie

When did it become socially acceptable to admit to enjoying Fleetwood Mac? As a child of the 80s, I remember how derisively they were referenced, as corporate divorce AOR, before dad rock was even invented as a pejorative term for that kind of thing. Their albums littered dollar record bins the world over, long before record collecting came back in vogue. Nowadays, you can pop into any Urban Outfitters and pick up a pristine 140-gram copy of Tusk for $44.98. How the times have changed.

Maybe this shift into acceptance and appreciation was a natural progression, the result of an organic sea change, respect renewed as soon as the old prejudices died out. Or maybe it resulted from the flattening of the world of popular music, the bleeding together of genres that followed the advent of file-sharing. Post-Napster, an understanding arose that even popular bands needed to make ends meet, that there was no shame in selling out, only in failing to sell out successfully. Or maybe this reappraisal can be connected to ripples of progressive influence, of living in a late-wave feminist world. Songs about love and love’s decaying half-life could no longer be taken at face value as sentimental pablum, because love, like all personal matters, was inherently political. An acknowledgment arrived that the softness of soft rock swaddled hard truths about the ways we coexist and share each others’ private spaces.

Fleetwood Mac works so well as a reference for Haim — a much buzzed-about group, consisting of three sisters from Los Angeles, as well as a myriad of mostly behind-the-scenes collaborators — not only because they often sound like Fleetwood Mac, but also because there is something terribly unhip about the tidy and fussed-over kind of music made by bands like these. Of the 11 songs on Days Are Gone, Haim’s long-awaited debut record, every single one is about being in a relationship, with the overwhelming majority focusing on periods of dissolution. There’s hardly anything radical about groups of young women singing about love, and to be fair, there isn’t anything radical about Haim either. To borrow a critique from another format, Days Are Gone fails the Bechdel Test, though it must be noted that the genders of those soon-to-be ex-lovers are never made explicit; they are instead entreated in the second person or described using generic terms of endearment, such as “baby” and “honey.” The phrase “hold on” is sung huskily on several songs; if the debt to Wilson Phillips is unintended, it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.

But we are living in a postmodern era. It must be possible to admire artifice as art, to admit weakness while admiring strengths. If vaporwave is an acceptable form of cultural digestion, then in which ways exactly do Haim fail the grade? To my ears, they don’t. There is something immensely gratifying in giving in to the sheer pleasure of mass media, in letting such immaculate, stainless hooks sink effortlessly into your cerebrum.

And the hooks are boundless on Days Are Gone. The record’s first three songs have already been released as singles, long before a full-length was even announced. Those three songs — “Falling,” “Forever” and “The Wire” — are essentially perfect, every single second engineered within an inch of their lives, to the point where resistance becomes either impossible or unconscionable. It isn’t until “Honey & I,” the album’s fifth track, when Haim’s energy shows any signs of faltering. And even “Honey & I,” which begins with an aimless and romantic strum, reminiscent of the pop-charting psychedelia of Tommy James and The Shondells, ultimately builds into a shouty and unshakable breakdown by the song’s end.

Produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, the same wunderkind responsible, at least in part, for the best-estimated works by artists like Solange, Charli XCX, Vampire Weekend, and Sky Ferreira, Days Are Gone is both very much in the spirit of the times and timeless, flowing somewhere along pop music’s slipstream. During the moments where Haim make concessions, no matter how slight, to modern trends — such as dubstep on “My Song 5” — the effect is jarring, if not necessarily unwelcome. By and large, Haim avoid such temporal specificity, but in any case, specificity is far from Haim’s strongest suit.

If Days Are Gone can’t sustain its level of quality for the entire duration of the record, then that is at least keeping in the tradition of its antecedents. After all, even Rumours’ B-side pales in comparison to its A. “Go Slow” mashes together “In Your Eyes” and “Stay Fly” about as successfully as such a thing could ever be. The final two songs, “Let Me Go” and “Running If You Call My Name,” are of a piece, both serving as two halves of the same denouement. None of these songs fall flat, merely a little short of the standard set earlier in the album. Should you be concerned that the previously released four singles are the best Haim has to offer, worry not, because the title track is at least as good as those, if not miraculously better. Co-written by Jessie Ware, “Days Are Gone” is a Golden Corral buffet of song, swollen with an embarrassing array of bridges, choruses, and refrains. To compare the song, favorably, to Claire Boucher’s best material wouldn’t be anything but an understatement. There is a tangible complexity to each and every one of these tracks, which is not apparent if you’re only parsing their lyrics.

There will be those on whom the impressive merits and immense pleasures of Haim will be no doubt wasted. And to them, I say, let it be wasted, for neither is in short supply. As of this moment, none of Haim’s songs have charted in the US, and it’s quite unlikely that Days Are Gone will make even a fraction of the impact of either Rumors or Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous reboot album. But popularity is a neutral quantity, neither inversely or directly related to quality. It doesn’t matter whether or not Haim gains any footholds in the public consciousness. This is frivolous, immaculate music. It is unlikely to gain any greater resonance as time marches forward, but just the same, I suspect that it will sound no more and no less pristine in 35 years than it does at this very moment.

Links: Haim - Columbia

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