opinion by JEAN-LUC MARSH
Somewhere in between the endless sunshine, glassy surf, and noxious smog, Los Angeles has formed itself into a launch pad for upcoming musicians. Indeed, the City of Angels has long been fertile ground for nascent talent. However, in exporting its artistic aptitude to the world, Los Angeles has yet to find a singular sound that defines it, remaining too large a place to be confined by the simple conventions of genre. The idea of a “Southern California sound” is a lofty one, not to mention a daunting notion for any band to embody. The very immensity of this challenge, and the fact that they rise to the occasion in such exquisite fashion, is what makes HAIM so extraordinary.
Alana, Este, and Danielle Haim occupy a unique space on the sonic plane. A sister act hailing from the San Fernando Valley, HAIM is built upon a wholesome foundation; the family dynamic is something to root for. But it is their music that speaks to their potential universal appeal. HAIM’s debut record, Days Are Gone, is a carefully curated collection of crowd-pleasers with enough chutzpah to fill stadiums, and optimistic mid-tempo ballads borrowing heavily from seventies and eighties influences.
Days Are Gone has something for everyone: nostalgia to keep your parents hooked, clean lyrics that sacrifice little depth to keep the evangelical crowd engaged, musical eclecticism to pique the jaded hipster’s interest, and enough edge to make HAIM seem like the coolest thing on this side of the Mississippi. Something this good rarely remains a secret though. HAIM is already making waves across the Atlantic, becoming darlings of the European festival circuit and coming on top of the BBC Sound of 2013 Poll. Even radio wants a piece of the pie, and HAIM is poised to take over the airwaves everywhere with juggernauts like “The Wire”, as a recent trip to rural Vermont proved to me.
The formula for HAIM’s universal appeal is devilishly simple. Spirited guitar-driven paeans straddling the line between rock and pop, injected with a heavy dose of Americana, and finished off with a sun-dappled California flair. It would be reasonable to assume that Days Are Gone is an anthology of easy listening, anchored by vivacious guitar chords and girl power vocals; in short, the ideal soundtrack to a drive down PCH. Rather, it is an album that crosses genres without fuss or fanfare, transitioning seamlessly from pop-rock to wonky synth-funk, and back again.
No track is more emblematic of this versatility than “My Song 5.” Beginning with an eerie atmospheric hum, the song develops into a slow-motion stomper. Tambourines jingle in and out of the foreground, strong percussive thuds build an unembellished beat, and growling guitars reinforced by gurgling synths create a faintly menacing air. Just when it seems things cannot get weirder, the halfway point introduces iridescent synthesizers, auto-tuned vocals, and a final vocoder phrase, before descending back into the menacing musical dungeon. It is an uncharacteristic display from HAIM, but a welcome detour, and a little nugget of something new amid the primarily organic material that composes the remainder of Days Are Gone.
Penultimate track, “Let Me Go,” forms the climax of the album; a late-record gem that injects some nitro into what has up to this point, been a carefree jaunt up the coast. The song begins unassumingly, but then the drums kick in and the eponymous command takes on a newfound urgency. A rapid gallop carries the song into a new register, and grander percussion and organ synths frame lyrics that beg for release from a lover’s grasp. The electric guitar growls to life again and carries the track to a gasping finish.
Not quite the panacea that will usher in world peace, Days Are Gone is still a remarkable effort. It’s a tour de force demonstrating what this misunderstood metropolis is truly capable of, and a worthy contender for the crown of this town. Los Angeles, you may have a winner. Hold on to these girls, they’re golden. [B+]
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