October 7, 2013 by NowhereButPop
Let me just preface this by saying that I’m automatically going to like a band made up of three sisters. With that in mind, I’ll try not to let my biases get the better of me this time around. At its core, Haim’s debut album Days Are Gone is really made up of two parts: songs that the band recorded for various EPs as they were trying to make it big, and newer songs recorded specifically for the album. Now, knowing full well which songs had been previously released, it makes the album come off as half-hearted and almost lazy. We’re essentially treated to a handful of new songs, and a handful of rerecorded older songs. The irony of it all however, is that the older songs that had already been released on prior EPs tend to be better than the new songs.
Maybe this is due to the fact that some of the songs seem to step on each other’s toes too much because of their similar sound, and having heard half the album merely highlights this more evidently. But I can’t help but break up the album into these two segments and compare them against each other. This fact proves to be the biggest drawback to an otherwise successful debut album. There is a lot to like listening to the album for the first time, especially if you are unfamiliar with the band and their older songs.
The album starts off with “Falling”, an incredible catchy number written and recorded prior to the albums’ release. The song represents so much that the Haim sisters have to offer with their trademark indie sound that they infuse with R&B and 80s pop. It’s a sound that sounds incredibly difficult to pull off, but at their best they do so with an amazing ease and skill. To find such originality in an indie band in 2013 is no small feat. “Falling”, one of the highlights of the album combines an 80s chorus, with an indie feel, mixed in with a distinct R&B groove.
“Forever” is a structurally and sonically similar sound to “Falling” and true enough, along with “Falling” Don’t Save Me” and “Go Slow” “Forever” was already released on the eponymous EP last year. For those familiar with the band, it may sound too similar to be placed right after “Falling”, but it does produce an atmosphere of familiarity as well as cementing their style for new listeners. The first new song finally comes along with the third track “The Wire” which deviates from the sound of the first two songs, as it has more of an arena rock feel with its Queen like drum beat and present staggering guitar work. Immediately, “The Wire” sounds different from the first two songs, and the reason why is because it was recorded for the album, instead of being a previous song they included to create a full LP. “The Wire” introduces new and old fans alike to a more diverse and cohesive sound than previous recordings.
“If I Could Change Your Mind” and “Honey & I” are two new songs that while distinct in their own right, do hearken to two of the bands’ influences. The former sounds like a reworked Annie Lennox song, while the latter sounds like a Christie McVie written Fleetwood Mac song that made out with a Vampire Weekend song. These two songs work in conjunction because they explore the band’s musical ventures. “If I Could Change Your Mind” is grounded in 80s pop what with the layered synths and harmonized chorus, but “Honey & I” has a 21st century indie feel to it; it’s basically the kind of song you’d hear in the trailer for some indie movie. Within the first half of the album, it’s clear that Haim is an indie band, but what separates them from most of their peers is that they are not content with merely being an indie band that plays indie music. There are elements of rock, pop, and R&B that provide musical direction and exploration that could potentially lead them to outlasting all of these other indie bands out there.
“Don’t Save Me” is both literally and metaphorically the halfway point of the album. It’s the sixth track of the 11 cut album, and it’s after this point that the album begins to sag a bit. Another song from their beginning “Don’t Save Me” is a track that suffers from being on the album. Because of its inclusion, despite it being on released a year ago, “Don’t Save Me” is a victim of being overshadowed by newer and better songs on the album. It’s still a fun and free song that tells an ex to “Fuck off”, but it’s not as dynamic or appreciated as some of the newer songs. This especially hurts when the next track is the title track “Days Are Gone”. Along with “Falling”, “Days Are Gone” is the best song on the album, and the best of the songs written specifically for the album. This song, more than any other recalls mid-late 90s R&B; I can easily picture Monica writing this song back in 1997. Everything just clicks together on this song, the guitar, the chorus, the beats, the harmonies, everything is sheer perfection.
Building off the innate strength of “Days Are Gone” comes “My Song 5” which just oozes Brothers era Black Keys blues. Easily the bluesiest song on the album, “My Song 5” proves that girls can sing the blues just as well as any man. The rough guitar riff is the perfect compliment for the sublime vindictiveness that permeates from the sisters as they recount the tale of a jaded relationship. With that being said, “My Song 5” is the last memorable song on the album as the last three songs fail to live up to the rest of the album.
“Go Slow” is a weak ballad that was written prior to the albums’ creation. It’s a track that is too atmospheric and simplistic to be a part of the album. It’s status as being recorded a few years back bleeds through as it creates a softness to the band that is more or less absent from the rest of the album. “Let Me Go” and the closer “Running If You Call My Name” are two other ballads that fail to hit home in conjunction with “Go Slow”. They sound to similar and make the album slump to the finish line. With the final two songs, it seems like they wanted to remind everyone that they are an indie band, more so than a band that was inspired by a very eclectic blend of musical genres.
The biggest failing of the album is that even though there is diversity, it may not be enough. All the songs are centered around a very loose formula of indie pop, 80s sounding chorus, beautiful harmonies and inspired grooves. By the time the album ends, it becomes a formula that is almost pressed to death, if not for the moments of infusion of 90s R&B or arena rock. Musically, and creatively I really think that Haim has what it takes to distinguish themselves from all the other indie pop bands. But to do that they have to do what few other bands are doing now days and diversify their musical portfolio. On Days Are Gone with songs like “Days Are Gone”, “My Song 5” and “Falling” it’s immensely possible for them to do this. The skill is there, as is the musical appreciation for a multitude of genres that will allow them to explore different avenues of pursuit. Is this the best debut album of all time? No. Is this the best indie album of all time? No. But what it is though is a good start for a band that shows a lot of potential despite a few visible flaws.