Album Review: Haim, “Days Are Gone”

Days Are Gone

There are certain eras that readily lend themselves to imitation. It’s always cool to be retro-60s, and 2013 has been a good year to bring back disco (see: Daft Punk). I’m not aware of any mainstream pop/rock artist in recent memory who’s looked back and said, “Let’s make mid-80s soft rock cool again.” Probably because it was never “cool” to begin with. But if the Sisters Haim have their way, 2013 will have been the year that the Yamaha DX7 made a roaring comeback.

Several reviewers have brought up Fleetwood Mac in connection with Haim’s full-length debut, Days Are Gone (2013). There is a reason for this: because this record sounds an awful lot like Fleetwood Mac. And that’s a good thing. We kick off with a winning trifecta: “Falling,” “Forever,” and “The Wire” are some of the best songs of 1987. But really, when the drums on “The Wire” hit you with enough gated reverb to do Phil Collins proud and lead vocalist Danielle’s Christine McVie alto swings you into a stadium-sized chorus, it’s a full-on nostalgia bomb for a song you’ve never heard before.

Despite the hook “never look back, never give up” on album opener “Falling,” Days Are Gone (2013) seems to be oriented firmly toward the past, whether reflecting on a failed relationship (a consistent theme) or lamenting the passing of childhood: “Screaming for what was to come, now I’m dreaming ’bout the way I was.” Even the album’s title implies a wistful looking back. As a twenty-something who grew up in more or less the same musical milieu as the Haim sisters (although, to be fair, I haven’t been playing in a band with my siblings since grade school), I understand the impulse – transitioning to adulthood is no easy task. With its predilection for restrained verses and surging, melodic choruses, the mid-to-late 80s was great at communicating that sense of yearning and uncertainty within the constraints of a four-minute pop song, so it makes sense aesthetically as well as contextually.

Haim does, on occasion, incorporate more modern R&B textures into their sound. These are the moments when Days Are Gone falters. Behold “My Song 5,” whose compression issues and borderline-unlistenable low-register synthesizer mark the record’s first major misstep. It never quite recovers – the first two-thirds of the album is where the highlights are. But those highlights are pretty great: the opening trio, naturally, but also “Honey & I,” which is as every bit as sweet as its title would imply – pop perfection in a vintage bottle. The playing is tight, the production immaculate, the harmonies pitch-perfect.

What makes it all work, and not collapse into a soulless retro-80s disaster, is Haim’s unadulterated ingenuousness. There’s not an ironic bone in the band’s collective body (perhaps it’s congenital). This music is delivered with a sincerity that shines through in their artless (some might say trite) lyrics and effortless choruses. Haim are making some of the best pop-rock of 1987, no doubt; but they’re also making some of the best pop-rock of 2013.


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2 Responses to Album Review: Haim, “Days Are Gone”

  1. Pingback: Tom’s Top 10 of 2013 | Revolutions Per Minute

  2. Pingback: Tom’s Top 10 of 2014, Pt. 1 | Revolutions Per Minute

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