Published on June 30th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Haim – Women In Music Pt. III
Haim are back with a new album that shows tremendous growth for the trio of sisters. Women In Music is the perfect summer album to chill with.
The term “indie rock” has grown rather malleable in the last 10-15 years. Sub-sub genres like chillwave and dream pop have blurred the lines of what feels “indie” and what actually “rocks.” And then there’s “alternative,” which feels even broader; for example, the other day I noticed Run the Jewels on the American Alternative Charts. And then there’s indie pop crossover acts like Tame Impala, The 1975, Imagine Dragons, or Cigarettes After Sex that find their way onto Billboard charts as well as the Alternative Stations.
It seems as though indie is more of a vibe than it is a generic arrangement of instrumentation. If anything, it’s defined by a lack of key signifiers, a lack of clubby hooks and shoehorned rap verses. Indie has just become synonymous with that which is more likely to be played on CBC radio than C95.
When I first heard Haim’s debut album back in 2013, the idea of them being an indie rock band seemed rather thin and paltry. They sounded more like a well-produced Wilson Philips cover band. That’s not to say that I totally hated their sound; I’m not immune to a catchy hook and simple, stick-in-your-head lyrics. But the three sisters didn’t strike me as being alternative to anything, except maybe the proto-typical pop star appearance. They were more so cute than hot, they were a bit more quirky than confident. But other than that, they came off as just another girl group.
A lot has changed about the way we see “indie” even from 7 years ago. But a lot has changed about Haim as well. Just as they have been embraced by the indie community, whether through good branding or just pure diligence, they have also finally found their footing as a rock band. Women in Music Part III, is more than a third record, it’s a re-invention. A coming out party for a group that has finally translated that alternative personality into their music.
The group comes through with a much more soulful and textured sound on this LP, which was co-produced by frontwoman Danielle Haim and former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. It’s still very hook-driven, and the harmonization that the three sisters previously cut their teeth on has only improved in quality here. But there is a different energy to this version of Haim. It may actually be a lack of energy. The band’s two previous albums saw the group trying so hard to plug away at their repetitive hooks and juice up a rather familiar sound with pure youthful effervescence. That worked to a certain extent, but there remained a lingering feeling that they were reaching for something they fundamentally were not. Their new album makes that seem all the more clear as the band relaxes into their hooks and allows simple guitar licks to do the talking. Instead of over-producing to make up for a lack of originality, the production feels as though it is complementing fresh and more personal instincts.
Singles like “The Steps,” “I Know Alone,” and “I Don’t Wanna” feel like logical progressions of the band’s sound; they don’t completely re-invent the wheel. But there is an effortlessness to them that was missing in their previous singles. As the opening guitar riff sounds off on “The Steps,” the melody feels like it emerges organically from the instrumentation. Almost as if the band switched up their process, writing the music before the lyrics, whereas before it felt as though they threw together a catchy hook and then built up the song from there. The drumming is a lot more grounded, opting for under-produced snares instead of 808s and looped percussion. And even when they do play around with synthetic instrumentation on ”I Know Alone,” it’s co-opted by an under-sung chorus that makes the song fit within the “less-is-more” philosophy of the album.
Other tracks lean even further into influences like The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. “Gasoline” is underscored by a smooth, funk-influenced hammer-on guitar riff. And more importantly, that guitar is trusted enough to (mostly) carry the song through its verses. “FUBT” and “Leaning on You” carry on that tradition, entering into full old-school folk rock territory. The latter especially feels very Stevie Nicks-inspired; I’m guessing the band listened to a lot of “Rumours” before writing this new material.
Even their more contemporary quote-unquote “pop” songs have a smoothness to them that make them cohere with the more folksy tracks quite nicely. “Another Try” is a total earworm, but it is underscored by a smooth Blondie-esque bass line that makes it thump along with a very mellow pace. “All That Mattered” is the track that has the most in common with Haim’s previous hits. It comes in hot with a thunderous drum loop. Yet even more anthemic cuts like this don’t feel out of place. The band maintains a very tempered approach to the vocal melody so that nothing feels forced or heavy-handed. It’s a very smooth, very digestible sound across the board, which allows them that freedom to play around with their diverse array of influences and styles.
Overall, this record is probably the closest thing I’ve heard to the “Album of the Summer.” It’s got a very re-playable essence; the songs just get catchier and more endearing on repeat listens. There are three bonus tracks on the album (which doesn’t really make sense, considering they are a part of the regular album and not just some Deluxe Edition or something). Nevertheless, there is a lot of very chill, very roll-down-your-windows-and-crank-it material to go around. Haim have really solidified themselves as an alternative rock band, a moniker that was a little tenuous with them until recently. They have successfully connected the dots between “indie” and “rock” in a very accessible way, a feat that is much easier said than done.