Review: HAIM, Something To Tell You

A lovely sophomore album handicapped by the memory of a near-perfect debut
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Critically analyzing the Haim sisters is an exercise in heady dot-connecting. It’s almost impossible to take their craft at face value, because so much of the end product is indebted to counterintuitive genre-crossovers and antiquated sonic themes. There’s a particular reason why the sister-trio’s most prevalent artistic similarities comprise artists from a bygone era. But only a fool would mistake this strategy for a failure. Evoking Wilson Phillips and Fleetwood Mac vibes has become their calling card for two reasons: One—they’re talented enough to pay tribute without coming across as reductive or trite, which is a hairline-miracle given that—two—they’re also smart enough to know no one on earth can do it as flawlessly as they can. They’re as deserving of this opportunity as they are keenly aware of it. And that alone makes HAIM a band you want to follow step-for-step.

We’ll get the bad news out of the way early on: Something to Tell You, HAIM’s highly anticipated second LP, isn’t quite as good as Days Are Gone, HAIM’s (then) highly anticipated debut LP. While Days Are Gone felt cohesive, digestible and catchy track-over-track, Something to Tell You swings for the same fences but fails to go the distance.

That’s not to say it’s a bad album. On the contrary; it’s a fantastic exploration into how rock music can assume a pop identity and vice versa. This is no small feat, given the direction pop music has been leaning recently. Not for nothing, rock music has begun to feel nostalgic, which by its very definition counters the status quo pop concept. The fact that HAIM are capable of successfully conjuring guitar-heavy vibes and rock-centric undertones speaks as much to their inspirations as it does to their musicianship. Which is to say: These girls can shred, but they’re effortlessly grounded in their principles.

Furthermore, any shortcomings Something to Tell You demonstrates is based solely on its attempt to replicate the same sort of formula that made Days Are Gone such a unanimous success. Keep in mind: This strategy almost never works. Borrowing from tired ideas is a sure-fire way to lose a ton of style points, which will almost always result in a subpar outing. Except the Days Are Gone formula is by no means tired. On the contrary, Something to Tell You serves as proof-positive that Days was simply ahead of its time. Instead of going back to a dried well, HAIM have discovered that the well is fuller now than it’s ever been. Probably because they’re the only ones drawing from it.

So on one hand, you feel obliged to commend the sisters Haim for being mindful enough to know there’s still gold to be mined from this melody-heavy pop rock engine. Album pre-runner “Want You Back” is as strong a track as they’ve ever written, blending chamber vocals, staccato rhythms and a neon-tinted streamline. “I’ll take the fall and the fault in us / I’ll give you all the love I never gave before I left you,” lead vocalist and middle sister Danielle Haim begs shamelessly, conveying a one-that-got-away sentiment that’s only bolstered by the band’s pristine instrumentation and crystal-clear production from Ariel Rechtshaid and BloodPop. Similarly, former Vampire Weekend utility man Rostam Batmanglij lends production chops to “Little of Your Love”, “Found It in Silence”, and the sultry “Walking Away”, Something’s three strongest tracks.

But on the other hand, it’s hard not to hear “Want You Back” and the beautiful glacial build of “Right Now” and anticipate anything less than Days Are Gone. I foolishly conjectured, based entirely on these two pre-release tracks, that Something to Tell You would finish 2017 in the top five. Sadly, I’m not sure I can assert this position now that the LP has dropped. The reality is that Something to Tell You, though strong in its own right, just doesn’t quite live up to the pomp and circumstance established by Days. Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with Something. Contextually speaking, go back and listen to the first album. B MINUS