Music Reviews
Days Are Gone

HAIM Days Are Gone

(Polydor) Rating - 6/10

It’s easy, even tempting, to write off HAIM as a flavor of the season—the songs are too catchy to just be a flavor of the month. Their catchy choruses, pop song structures, and breezy, care-free sound and lyrics make them feel like an old friend—or rather a group of old friends named Stevie, Lindsey, Christine, John, and Mick, or maybe T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli. But the pop guise and choruses occasionally pass “catchy” to approach “memorable” and the more unique verses, which feature prominent basslines and R&B influences as well as the song-of-the year-contender My Song 5, elevate Days Are Gone to something more noteworthy.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Days Are Gone is a direct result of the hype that surrounded the band for close to a year prior to the album’s release. A top placement in BBC’s “Sound of 2013” brought attention to their two EPs from 2012, which contain four songs—Forever,Honey & I,Go Slow, and Let Me Go—of this 11 song LP. Throw in Don’t Save Me, Falling, and The Wire, which have been around since last November, February, and July, respectively, and Days Are Gone begins to sound a tad too familiar. There are four new songs here, and only the aforementioned My Song 5 is better than the old material.

But the uninitiated are in for a bit of a treat. The palm mutes and slap bass that open Falling are an immediately enticing backdrop to sing-speak vocals that make way for a prototypical HAIM chorus, “don’t stop, no, I’ll never give up/I’ll never look back, never give up/and if it gets rough it’s time to get rough,” as the sisters begin to harmonize, increase their tempo, and employ tom-heavy drums (by non-sister Dash Hutton) before closing the song off in a typical pop-heavy fashion.

That’s the longest song on the album, at 4:32. The shortest is the title track at 3:34. In other words, Falling is a pretty good idea of what Este, Danielle, and Alana do. Fortunately, it gets better from there, as Forever quickly proves. Guitars jangle a bit more, as this one is more rock than R&B, and the lovelorn lyrics, for all their cheesiness, are incredibly endearing. Forever also contains the most memorable chorus on the album, a sprightly contrast to the desperate, bass-heavy verses. The bridge is equally memorable, beginning with a short guitar solo that quickly transitions into a break into a bass/vocal break that quickly gets back to another glorious minute of the care-free, dazzling chorus. Not only does Forever not wear out its welcome, but no single section of it does; it’s a perfect pop song, and a large part of what caused hype for Days Are Gone in the first place. The Wire follows-up as the top song that leans toward R&B, largely because of its heavily syncopated bursts of guitar and its patient, often times teasing build-up. Bursts of synth and elegant vocals and harmonies all come together to demonstrate precisely what HAIM does best.

The rest of Days Are Gone is a variation on those two themes, the infectious pop tracks like Don’t Save Me and Honey & I—the latter of which is so similar to a McVie Fleetwood Mac song that it’s almost uncanny—and the more ambitious slow-burners, such as Let Go. In the case of If I Could Change Your Mind, it becomes a weak excuse to parade a Get Lucky-esque guitar riff for a chorus, but on the case of Days Are Gone, more ambitious structure, the most mature lyrics on the album, and a confident use of backing vocals make for a quiet highlight.

While some of these tracks are less memorable than others, there are no flat-out misses, and so Days Are Gone becomes an appropriate title for an album that oftentimes sounds like a chance encounter with an old friend. Most of the memories are fond, but there might be a formative experience or two if you are willing to look.

And then there’s My Song 5. A dubstep grind accompanies a foreboding battle cry of a frustrated lover and back-up utterances of “hot for me” that are far more creepy than sexy. The chorus is a spare drum beat and a chorus of abstract descriptions leads first to a terrifying series of questions ending with the declaration of, “honey I’m not your honey pie,” first spoken normally and the next time with sudden pitch-alterations that outdo anything Vampire Weekend pulled off with Diane Young. Then it’s back to the grind and the terrifying gasps of the Haim sisters - it turns abruptly into a darker Destiny’s Child song for a quick verse before diving further into some abyss where nearly incomprehensible words function as desperate cries, as if trying to escape the songs own tormenting soundscape. There are also a variety of synth effects in there, including some that sound like a distorted tuba. On the one hand, it’s a good thing that the uplifting Go Slow and its impressive (but far less intimidating) bass follows; on the other, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be listening to My Song 5 again.

The final two songs, while not impressive on their own, are effective as a closing duo, albeit considerably darker than the front of the album, although not so dark as to end without an optimistic note. When it’s all said and done, it’s a bit of a blur, but in the same way that looking back on a good evening might be when you wake up for work a day or two later. You’re glad it happened, but it might not stick with you.