Let’s try to describe how Haim sound without resorting to comparisons.
They’re three sisters (Danielle, Este, and Alana) who occasionally harmonize but always seem to be singing in unison. They’re not necessarily funky, but they are certainly funk-aware, and keyboards take up more of their studio albums than the hand-held instruments of their performances suggest. They’re pop but they sure don’t sound like their contemporaries—we merely know of their pop-ness from all the signifiers we’re leaving out here to prove a point. Those signifiers are old, they’re anachronistic, and they weren’t particularly critically respected in their day, yet in flecks and starts they collude with new production tricks that never would’ve appeared on Wilson Phillips or Bonnie Raitt’s 1990 albums. Oops—apparently it’s impossible to describe how Haim sound without resorting to comparisons. Sorry.
Look at these titles, from Haim’s second album Something to Tell You, which is out today: “Little of Your Love,” “Want You Back,” “Right Now.” They’re both encyclopedic and highly generic. They could be chart-topping standards, or the product of a band you’ll forget exists after a few months. This is why Haim is Hanson: a group fresh, skilled, and out-of-time enough to land like a comet in their day.
After their pop-star moment in 1997, Hanson returned to their cult rather promptly, and they haven’t been worse for the wear ever since. (Really—check out 2010’s bright and shiny proto-“Happy”/”Uptown Funk” jaunt “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin.” The boys are fine.) Haim are here for a bit longer, having put down roots opening for Taylor Swift and exemplifying a kind of uncool studio craftsmanship that lacks the world-conquering egotism required to actually replace the headliner. They’re both excessively eager to please (friends with lotsa celebs) and just chopping away at their sound, which is made with the same indie-turned-pop pros as everyone else: Ariel Rechtshaid, Dev Hynes, Rostam Batmanglij.
So after their deafeningly lauded 2013 debut, Days Are Gone, Haim pump it up: These songs are bigger, louder, hookier. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they rock. But they’re certainly not soft-rock any longer. The amped-up retro-soul of “Little of Your Love” and “Want You Back” smack you in the face with their giant, hotly compressed choruses rather than just meeting a nostalgic mood in the middle. The spare, one-note syncopation of “Walking Away” would’ve fit nicely on the 1975 album last year if those guys were interested in subtlety. But mostly, as you can tell from the bass-thumping Tango in the Night folk-rock of “You Never Knew,” Haim are content with the blessings and curses of the eras they pillage in search of unwritten hooks. After making it big with the vibrant, cornball Middle of Nowhere, Hanson tried to fake a muscular encore with This Time Around. Here’s the four-years-later follow-up it actually deserved.