19
Dec
13

Best Albums of 2013! #7: HAIM – Days Are Gone

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

7. Days Are Gone – HAIM (Columbia)

Call HAIM a curious case of hype. I remember when they just about exploded into being from, well, a family band. I’m not so sure on the backstory, but at one point they played with their parents and then as part of a girl group. Then they went at it on their own. The released a free, three-song EP: Forever. Then they played SXSW and suddenly they were on every music blog, constantly. I think there might’ve even been a bidding war before Columbia picked them up.

Their three-song EP was so strong and concise it just about blew everyone away. Here was a trio of sisters and their first album was great: sharp melodies, strong songwriting and they could play anyone’s asses off. The music was familiar enough you could hit on the influences – Fleetwood Mac, Destiny’s Child – but it never sounded derivative, either. Before long, this band with just three originals to their credit was playing Jools Holland and Letterman.

They ended up with so much traction on their three-song EP that maybe no full length could’ve delivered everything everyone wanted. Maybe that explains the backlash. They’ve been accused of ripping off everyone from The Eagles to Shania Twain. And people love to mock Este Haim’s “Bass-face,” because musicians aren’t supposed to enjoy what they’re doing, I guess.

Maybe they wear their influences a little too on their sleeves sometimes (to my ears, The Wire does cop pretty hard from Shania Twain). And maybe they’re guilty of mining their back catalog a little: they reused two songs from their Forever EP. I don’t care. Their debut album was a fun, engaging listen and I’ll take that any day.

Through 11 strong songs, HAIM blows past the sounds of their debut, constantly tackling different styles and pulls it off, too. On Falling, they verge into 70s soft rock, complete with a fuzzy, yet restrained guitar solo. On the handclap-propelled If I Could Change Your Mind, they’re as catchy and dancy as anything I’ve heard all year. And Don’t Save Me is tense, tight, wiry pop.

What really sets them apart to me is how good they can play: Danielle’s a good guitar player, often handling lead vocals and the guitar parts live (no easy feat: how many other people play lead and sing?) and Alana’s capable at three or four instruments, especially live; on SNL she handled keyboards, percussion, backing vocals and guitar. But Este’s the one I’m fascinated by: the basslines on this album are what set the different styles apart and she easily goes between ballads, soft rock and dance. She gets all the stupid flak online, but I’d wager she also deserves most of the credit for their success, too.

Even minor reservations aside (I think the title cut sounds comparatively cold to their other songs and it loses a bit of steam near the end), it’s a hell of a debut, even taking the anticipation and hype into consideration. Most bands would be proud to have any of their albums be so strong; with HAIM it’s only the beginning.

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