Haim’s ‘Days Are Gone’ is a casually great pastiche of the past


Haim’s debut album, “Days Are Gone,” seems likely to catapult the band to stardom. (Bella Lieberberg/Bella Lieberberg)
September 30, 2013

The extravagantly hyped debut album from the L.A.-based Haim, is casually great, effortlessly charming and baked in California sunshine. “Days Are Gone” is also as consequential as a pull-strip perfume ad and as fluffy as a bunny, an homage to its members’ many influences. It is so stuffed-to-bursting with the things they love that it signals the arrival of a new art form: the album as Pinterest board.

Everything about sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim — it rhymes with “time” — is perfectly curated: their backstory (they grew up playing in a ’70s cover band with their parents before their childhood love of ’80s and ’90s R&B grew too strong to be denied), their ethereal confidence, their curtains of hair and Anthropologie-ready wardrobes, which suggest ladies of the canyon who have just returned from a sojourn in Marrakesh with Graham Nash in 1972.

Unlike their peers, who are content to pore over dusty indie record store crates or sift through Rihanna’s discards for inspiration, Haim rummages through the cutout bin at the pop cultural Goodwill, snatching up influences that are little-used (En Vogue), unloved (Phil Collins) or left for dead (late-period Eagles, post-“Tusk” Fleetwood Mac).

Though “Days Are Gone” is a work of insouciant cool, a gorgeous shrug of an album, the Haims are passionate about their influences: No one has ever loved Brandy this much, or made such a case for the lesser works of the Pointer Sisters. Every pop song you probably loved at one point in your childhood, every cheesy ballad from your eighth-grade dance, Haim loves it too, without reservation.

Out of these influences they’ve crafted a sleek, aerodynamic pop album that hangs together better than it should. The Haims have crisp, gorgeous voices, harmonies stacked like cordwood, a natural effervescence and an affection for songs that are catchy but mild, with fragile, insistent hooks. Some are informed by folk, some by rock, but most by the tinny synths of ’80s R&B, with source inspirations laid over the top like an Instagram filter. There are contemporary flourishes — nods to dub, to house, to Charli XCX and the Dirty Projectors — but they provide only a surface gloss of modernity.

The Haims’s hearts lie in the recent past, and “Days Are Gone” is at its finest on its frequent tightrope walks between tribute and musical taxidermy. The album’s best tracks are its most outrageously familiar (like the chugging, impassive opener “Falling”), the ones that are one stray “Sussudio” reference away from collapsing into ridiculousness.

Haim will someday need to make an album that yields more than these decorative pleasures. They’ll need to stop sounding like other people and start to figure out what they really sound like on their own. But for now, sounding like other people is what Haim sounds like. The Eagles’ hand-clappy “Heartache Tonight” serves as a template for “The Wire,” a sublime exercise in lightly percussive, stop-motion pop. “My Song 5” splices together stadium rock, distorted vocals and bottom-heavy percussion; it’s weird, but it’s the only track here with meat on its bones. “Don’t Save Me” is choppy, agreeable ’80s new wave straight outta the San Fernando Valley.

The Haim sisters approach almost every element of record-making with a precision that verges on surgical, but they tend not to worry about the lyrics too much; the same can be said, after all, about the songs the band uses as source inspiration. “Honey & I,” one of the album’s few misfires, is a brisk stab at golden era singer-songwriter folk with a beat that’s pleasantly off, and lyrics that are more sentimental and slight (“I know there’s nothing good in goodbye”) than its obvious prototype Joni Mitchell ever would have permitted.

Stewart is a freelance writer.

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