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Album Review: Haim – Days Are Gone [Columbia/Polydor]



They were bred for this. Well, maybe they were. Somebody ask their parents about that. One thing is for sure though – the three sisters that make up the band Haim have been making music from the very first moment they were able to. It’s certainly no coincidence that each of them plays a different instrument too: Danielle is lead guitar, Este is on bass, and Alana does keyboards/synths. Danielle and Este spent their late teens as part of a cut-and-paste major label band called Valli Girls, where they performed a bunch of songs written by a team of professionals intent on marketing to tweens and teens. Generally disappointed with playing a bunch of songs they didn’t write or necessarily like, the two Haim sisters left the band and went Partridge, complete with mom on lead vocals and dad behind the drum kit. Covers were their specialty, diving into the songbooks of everyone from Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac to Shania Twain and R&B legend Wilson Pickett. Of course it’s tough to make a living as a cover band, let alone a family cover band, and there comes a time in every parent’s life when they need to shove their babies out of the nest and let them try to fly on their own. And so we have Haim in their current incarnation, complete with long-time session drummer Dash Hutton to add percussion into the mix.

The buzz began in early 2012 when the single “Forever” was released as part of a three song EP, which along with some heavily hyped performances at SXSW got them a record deal. Their sound is best classified as a mixture of their influences, largely stemming from their upbringing and cover songs played with their parents. Fleetwood Mac is the name that gets referenced most often, however it’s most apt to say that they’ve got the late 80’s/early 90’s soft pop sound on lock, with dashes of R&B thrown in for good measure. Think Phil Collins and Richard Marx mixed with En Vogue and Kate Bush, and that should give you a decent impression of where they’re coming from. Those names might raise a lot of red flags or conjure bad memories, and there’s the inclination to suspect that they’re really just exploring those genres out of complete irony, however there’s extreme sincerity in every single thing they do. That’s really what sells the listener on the idea and earns the band the right sort of attention and respect in spite of all other factors. The new twists on old familiar sounds are also what make their songs seem very “of the moment.” For example, you could easily say that their latest single “The Wire” is a natural blend of the most classic periods of Shania Twain and The Eagles. Beyond that sonic comparison, the addition of each sister taking their own verse plus those dynamic harmonies really helps to elevate it to a “song of the year”-type status. Make previously strong singles “Falling” and “Forever” your lead-ins, and the start of their debut album Days Are Gone turns into a 1-2-3 knockout punch combo.

Of course it definitely doesn’t end there, in spite of the record’s apparent front-loading. Time and time again, Haim prove that they know their way around a chorus, and that they are happy to exploit or break away from genre conventions whenever it suits their needs. The album’s title track, kicking off the second half of the record, appears to mine a bit from the more urban pop era of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, and works out better than you might expect. It’s no wonder the song was co-written by Jessie Ware, who has largely taken over where Jackson and Abdul once reigned. While press materials will tell you that there’s a bit of an R&B influence in Haim’s sound, it doesn’t really show up too often. When it does though, as on “Let Me Go” and “My Song 5,” it adds a deeper layer to what the band is capable of, and makes for some of the most impressive moments on the album. Both songs could be considered an homage to En Vogue, though only “My Song 5” and it’s heavy bass drum/tuba blare truly sets itself apart from the rest of the album. And that’s perfectly fine – most records could use such a great standout. Yet one of the most fascinating things about Days Are Gone is how it manages to unite all of the disparate elements and influences into one cohesive whole of an album. Credit goes to producer du jour Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Usher) for finding a way to make it work, and to Haim for never sounding anything less than original in spite of obvious nods to the past.

If Days Are Gone has a real weakness, it’s found in the lyrics, which often attempt to turn a breezy melody into something dark and “important.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to write about serious issues against a lighthearted pop melody – artists do that all the time. Plus, it’s not like half of their songs are about depression, even though a few are about breakups and the fallout afterwards. Then again, “The Wire” is just about the most upbeat and kind song about the ending of a relationship that you’ll find these days. Where the issues emerge are in the words themselves, and not the topics. While the record has its fair share of creative wordplay, a close look at the lyrical content of most songs unveils a pattern of generalizations and bland phrasing that doesn’t hold up so well under scrutiny. All things considered, calling attention to such an issue given what Haim is out to accomplish can be viewed as petty and nitpicky, which is why it might be best to simply sit back, relax and let the melodies and hooks take you away. That is, essentially, what the sisters are doing on their album cover anyways.

Those in search of something different or innovative in a band probably won’t find Haim and Days Are Gone to their liking. What you do get from this record is a collection of strongly composed and confident songs that grab your attention and refuse to let go. Coming straight out of the gate with such excellence and precision is rather impressive, even if these sisters have been playing music since they became old enough to hold instruments in their hands. This is definitely something they’ve been building towards, and for all practical purposes they knock it out of the park.

Haim – The Wire

Haim – Falling

Buy Days Are Gone from Amazon

Lollapalooza 2013: Friday Recap


With Lollapalooza kicking off on Friday, my goal is to bring you the best possible coverage of the festival to help you get an impression of what it’s like to be there, and comment on some of the amazing slash not so amazing things I see. Traditionally in the past that means writing somewhat lengthy recaps of each day to describe all the action. Well, this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. I’m keeping the daily summaries very short, and will expand upon them at the end of the weekend with a lengthy final writeup. Basically, I’m taking my Twitter impressions and giving you a little bit (but not much) more. That said, here’s the bands I saw on Day 1, and my lightning quick thoughts on all of their sets.

San Cisco are a band with plenty of mediocre indie pop songs, but it’s sunny out & they’re fun, so who cares? A great way to start the festival (to a degree), and if everyone’s enjoying themselves, far be it from em to call this bad.

After a somewhat slow start to their set, Deap Vally really stepped it up and brought some great rock ‘n roll to their Lolla. Nice work, ladies. The duo crafts what basically amount to party and heavy drinking songs under the guise of a Black Keys/White Stripes garage rock/blues combo, and while early afternoon on a Friday isn’t exactly the best time for such debauchery, the crowd still seemed receptive to their charms.

Almost as if by prophecy, rain clouds rolled in and it began to drizzle in time for the start of Ghost B.C.‘s set. Thankfully for everyone in the crowd, it was only a brief, five minute light rain and the only precipitation that would hit Grant Park on Friday. In terms of the band though, they came out in their traditional black hooded robes and skeleton cardinal outfits and did some spectacular work moving beyond the mere theatrics of their performance and turning in a precise, enjoyable set of Swedish metal.

Jessie Ware‘s set was a fair amount of fun. Though her songs aren’t always the most energetic, her enthusiasm gave them a much needed boost. She was super friendly with the crowd, and in turn the crowd was super friendly to her. Smiles and light dancing abound, Ware charged through her debut album and certainly helped me to see it in a new light.

For the first time ever, I watched a full Crystal Castles set. Generally speaking, I had a blast. Alice Glass is hardcore. She came out on stage drinking straight from a bottle of Jameson and smoking a cigarette, then proceeded to crawl to the microphone like she could barely make it there. But she as usual, she wound up the focal point of the set, dancing and tossing a microphone stand around. Twice she attempted to crowd surf. The first time her microphone got detached and she has to abort the song and get back to the stage, but the second time she almost literally walked on top of people and kept singing at the same time. There was a big crowd and they loved every second of it. Even the cuts from their relatively weak third album sounded pretty good live.

Attempted to watch some of Imagine Dragons‘ set, but the crowd was so huge I could barely hear and certainly couldn’t see the band. So I left. I had a similar experience during M83 on the same stage at Lolla last year, but this time was even worse. Apparently the stage lost power after two songs and it took 10 minutes to restart it, but I was long gone by that time. It may as well have lost power from the very start, since I was so crushed into a spot so far away it was near impossible to hear anyways.

The Disclosure dance party at Lolla was absolutely one of the day’s highlights. Jessie Ware had to prep for her aftershow later that evening so couldn’t be there to do her vocals live for her guest track, but the duo just played back the recorded vocals from the record, along with those of AlunaGeorge and a host of other guests on their debut album. Though they were triggering those samples and some beats via laptop, they also tried their best to “perform” via some additional live drums and bass. It all worked pretty well, but I think nobody in the crowd really cared. All they wanted to do was dance.

New Order‘s Lolla set was almost exactly the same as the one I saw them do in Chicago a few months ago. Same backing videos, nearly the same stage banter, and the arrangements of their greatest hits hasn’t really changed either. As such, to me it was like watching a rerun of a TV show I love. It doesn’t take away from your love, you just know what’s coming and are probably only watching because there’s nothing better on. But for those that hadn’t seen New Order in awhile (or ever), this was a treat, and another dance party.

They should’ve put Chance the Rapper on a bigger stage at Lolla. The BMI stage was packed beyond packed for his set, and the crowd went so far back they spilled into some of the main walkways of Grant Park. Because the BMI stage is the smallest stage, you couldn’t see much unless you were really close. But the audio was crisp all the way back, and you could tell it was a strong performance simply by listening. Chance seemed overwhelmed by the crowd, and also equally appreciative. At the end of his set he tried to crowd surf to the back of the massive crowd while riding inside of an inflatable kiddie pool. He didn’t make it very far. Oh well.

Finally, it was a treat to see Nine Inch Nails again. Trent Reznor knows how to put on a live show better than anyone I can think of, and NIN’s headlining set was a feast for both the eyes and the ears. The interplay of shadows, the blinding columns of light, the fierce, attack dog way he tears apart every one of his songs with his band is nothing short of mindblowing. There were 3 songs off the band’s forthcoming record that were performed last night, and all sounded great. I was hoping for some off-kilter, reworked renditions of some popular NIN classics, but unfortunately only “Sanctified” got that treatment and nothing else. Still, “Closer,” “Head Like A Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” and all the others retain their power. It doesn’t feel like the band has been gone at all, though this was their first North American show in four years. Welcome back, Trent.

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