Haim Expand Their Palette With Punchy Tongue-In-Cheek ‘Women In Music Pt. III’
Sisters Este, Daniel, and Alana Haim have received critical acclaim for a sound that draws comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, mixed with a singular blend of influences ranging from R&B to synth-pop. After two successful albums sticking to this sound, they are maintaining their trademark traits, but have gone about songwriting with a new spontaneity that darts wildly between styles and is more playful than ever before. Taking inspiration from the eclecticism of Andre 3000’s 2003 album “The Love Below,” “Women In Music Pt. III” find the sisters playing snappy songs that will appeal to their usual fans, but taking on bolder liberties in their stylistic excursions. Of course, the album is more understated in its humor than “The Love Below,” and the songs are correspondingly measured, with cathartic expulsions and social criticism moderated tastefully. Still, there’s a new spontaneity to their music that sets the album apart. It’s a functional disinfectant for lyrics often written from depression, and it makes for Haim’s most multifaceted, nuanced album to date.
Opener “Los Angeles” begins with a saxophone that returns at just the right parts throughout the album, imbuing the music with a certain summery cool. From the onset, the band is so crisp and pointed that they can sound like they’re working with samples when they’re actually just jamming. Danielle Haim sings, “These days, these days I can’t win” in something of a measured sigh, to an infectious bassline and a cheery, lighthearted tune, capturing her love-hate relationship with the eponymous city. There are echoes of Vampire Weekend, who Danielle worked with closely on their last album. Next, “The Steps” is a perfect, punchy single that checks all the right boxes, with a driving guitar riff and an instant chorus, replete with a classic pop song climactic line of “Do you understand? / You don’t understand me.” The song has the spirit of a ‘90s alternative rock radio hit with studio flourishes that ground it in the present moment, and it captures the band at their most effortlessly effective.
“I Know Alone” takes a sonic detour, taking form around an insistent beat with traces of UK garage. It’s quite a random sound for Haim, and they pull it off swimmingly. While the lyrics tackle depression head-on, the song comes across as an easy offshoot from the lighthearted stylings so far, with quirky, pitched-up vocals, a resilient chorus, and a shout out to Joni Mitchell. “Up From a Dream,” one of several songs written with Rostam Batmanglij, features a wild guitar solo and one of the catchiest choruses yet, one that sounds clipped from a ‘60s pop song and successfully repurposed. Danielle sings with a cool composure that fits the measured stylings, but belies the heavy lyrics about waking up and finding oneself “changed in the blink of an eye.”
“Gasoline” is, well, a car sex song, with the type of explicit lyrics usually confined to R&B stylings, delivered over a befitting breakbeat and funky guitars. If this were an unanticipated move for Haim, just wait until the hilarious booty call ode that is “3AM.” The song begins with a voicemail, over a G-funk beat straight out of an early ‘90s hip-hop skit. Danielle falls into the role naturally, adopting a bit of R&B melisma, and the track takes form around her irresistible hook, with all sorts of quirky touches and playful embellishments thrown in. SIngle “Don’t Wanna” brings a return to form, a straightforward and stripped-down number with a memorable chorus. Lines like “We both have nights waking up in strangers’ beds… But I don’t wanna give up yet,” fit to a tune like this, are the stuff of an instant classic. There’s a type of vague gospel energy in Danielle’s phrasing that comes out in the end when horns burst in, and the song becomes a festive riot. The band have a way of teasing out ideas that are fully realized in the song’s final portions, and “Another Try” is another instance. Reggae stylings are the perfect conveyance for Danielle’s lighthearted, well-intentioned take on an on-and-off relationship, and the track develops into a celebratory affair.
You can again hear echoes of Vampire Weekend on “Leaning On,” With intricate but understated guitar work and hushed vocal harmonies, this charming ditty is one of the album’s catchiest songs. On “I’ve Been Down,” Danielle’s inflections seem, at moments, to channel Lou Reed’s idiosyncrasies, which wouldn’t be a surprise, as she goes on to borrow from him on bonus track “Summer Girl.” The titular lamentation is delivered to a breezy, sax-filled tune that revisits the light sound and dark undertones of the opener. Then, out of the blue comes “Man From the Magazine,” a Joen Baez-indebted folk tune that finds Daniel uncannily channeling an earlier generation of singer-songwriters. She uses questions that the band was asked early on, such as “Do you make the same faces in bed?” to make a statement about sexism in the music industry that gives context to the album title. An especially indulgent number is “All That Ever Mattered,” another R&B-informed throwback, this time with outrageous ‘80s snares, flamboyant guitar solos, and a scream that makes for one of the album’s wildest bits. “FUBT,” its acronym expanding to “Fucked Up But True,” is a somber song about a rollercoaster relationship. There’s a conclusive ring to it, with a guitar melody that vaguely recalls that of “The Steps,” and an ambivalent tone that returns to the beginning sentiment.
Every song on “Women In Music Pt. III” could be a single, and that’s not something that can be said about many albums. The Haim sisters demonstrate a knack for streamlined songwriting that stands out on their latest effort more than ever before. It’s remarkable how they shift gears wildly, but still always seem effortlessly fluid. The lyrics are weightier than those of previous albums, but the overall tone is lighthearted, as is the prevailing concept of this work. One can hear the spontaneous spirit that is so central to the album, and it makes for a consistently enjoyable listen. The way that the sisters take madcap darts into jokey R&B, glam rock outbursts, acoustic folk, and more makes for a release that would be laughable if it weren’t obviously issued with a bit of irony. One need only look as far as the album’s title to understand the sisters’ brand of humor. Haim uses the same strain of wit to expand their musical palette as to decry sexism in the music industry. “Women In Music Pt. III” is easily the best part of Haim’s discography yet.
“Women In Music Pt. III” is available June 26 on Apple Music.