In the half a decade I’ve been listening to popular music there are two things which have never changed. Good lyrics paired with a great hook are an equation for a great song. The test for that is always after I hear something for the first time what manages to linger with me after the sound is turned off. Is it a clever turn of phrase or a bass line to die for. One band which regularly gives me both is Haim. Their new album Women in Music Part III is full of these moments.
Musicians and the way they release new material is becoming something different. For Haim they had released six videos of the 16 songs on the album every few months starting a year ago. That first song “Summer Girl” is the three sisters who make up the group walking the streets of LA shedding their winter clothing followed by their own saxophonist. It felt like their take on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. When I read they had given him a songwriting credit for the track I realized it was intentional. I knew it was going to be an eclectic album if this was the first song.
Each new video showed a band playing with genres. I mentioned it as my favorite single of 2019 when “Hallelujah” came out at the end of the year. It is based on Alana Haim’s loss of her friend along with the bond between the sisters. The emotion of this song would be replicated in multiple tracks on the album as each sister opens up about their own personal tribulations. Each of these tracks come from a genuine place of emotion as each woman finds her voice to speak about it.
One of the best tracks is “Man From the Magazine” where in a very folky Joni Mitchell-esque way they skewer the misogyny they deal with. This album is full of tonal shifts from track to track. That they don’t come off gimmicky probably speaks to the respect the sisters have for the genres they are working in.
I know we are in a time where sitting down and listening to sixteen songs by one artist seems quaint. The beauty of queuing up Women in Music Part III is you’ll hear a self-shuffled playlist from a single artist.
Disclosure: This review is based on a copy I purchased.
I have a hypothesis when it comes to artists. The second effort is a better indication of success than their debut. There is a reason for the phrase “sophomore slump”. It shows up particularly acutely in the music business. Most of the time by the time a band is signed they’ve had years together earning that. Which also means when they enter the studio they can choose the best songs over that time span to use. It becomes much more difficult when they are asked to come up with new material for a second album in a year or two. If they can I tend to believe there is a chance for long term success. The three sisters who comprise the group Haim are the latest to show whether they can avoid this.
Haim performing on SNL
Haim was one of those acts which built their reputation on their live shows. That is much of what sets them apart in an era of production values over authenticity. They spent a year recording their first album “Days are Gone”. The length of the process was due to their using their live shows as rehearsal for when they would finally record the track. I am very fond of a less produced sound; “Days are Gone” was right where I like my rock and roll.
The second album “Something to Tell You” was released at the beginning of this month. It shows a band evolving. It is a funny thing when it comes to Haim because they have defined a seemingly singular sweet spot between pop music and alt-rock. When I say that you might think that would mean Haim has compromised both sides of that to land in the middle. What I think is different is they manage not to compromise anything while being both alt and pop.
The first single “Want you Back” is a good example. It is a song about wanting what you gave up while taking responsibility. It is surrounded by hooks of all kind. It has been one of my favorite songs of the summer. It became indicative of an album examining relationships in crisis. I don’t know if this reflects anything real in any of the band’s real life but if not, they do know how to cut to the bone.
Over the last month my favorite song has become “Right Now”. It is a heartbreaking song of wondering what happened. There is a plaintive organ which carries the lyrics to their end. I spoke about how their live shows feed into what gets recorded and there is a video which was shot around their recording session for this album. Which shows a more “live” version. If you compare it to what ended up on the album you get a real window into how these artists work.
It tells me there is much more to come from these three talented musicians, no sophomore slump here.