B. Michael Payne is unrelated to Michael W. Smith.
Over the last week, three different friends have mentioned to me that HAIM sounds like Amy Grant. They were all independent of each other, and two of them aren’t even big music buffs. I’m not sure what that means other than if I were about ten years old today, I’d probably have an inappropriate crush on all three sisters in HAIM. Ie, I don’t think it means much for HAIM’s music.
There’s no denying that HAIM’s debut album, Days Are Gone, has a lot of throwback sounds. On repeat listens, the album is a constellation of musical reference points.
Their biggest hit, “The Wire” has huge Gary Glitter drums and a burnished classic rock guitar tone. The little keyboard part in “Days Are Gone” sounds like Stevie Wonder’s harmonica part in “That’s What Friends Are For”. “Honey & I” has a peculiar palm-muted-and-reverb guitar sound that sounds utterly vintage. And of course, the chorus of “Change Your Mind” could be lifted directly from an Amy Grant b-side, and no one would be the wiser.
It would be a disservice to Days Are Gone to say the album is characterized by – much less hampered by – its mild case of retromania, though. For every different backward-facing path HAIM sends your mind down, they open up five new paths forward.
There’s the way “Forever” is an effortless layer cake of attitude and cool. “Don’t Save Me” is like a proclamation from the heart of America: go forth, multiply, and don’t forget your shades. The aforementioned “The Wire” has a Lonely Island-level video (starring a member of the group, even) and a pop genius to match. The proggy “My Song 5” veers dangerously close to radio-fodder ‘wub wub wub’ territory before its angelic chorus comes out of nowhere to narcotize the cynical part of your brain.
The overall strength of Days Are Gone is that it is less the sum of its parts and more a referendum on how to write perfectly catchy songs. For all the album’s sonic baggage, it is light and propulsive. Its songs have a heavy heart and a free spirit. The trio of Haim sisters could easily milk that pretense (like Kings of Leon a decade ago). They could trade on being ‘women who rock’. There are so many ways the band could get derailed on their way to superstardom. Instead, they seem like slightly dorky music obsessives who just focus on writing the catchiest rock songs currently available.
I know HAIM will be stars (or whatever the ceiling is for rock musicians these days) because, aside from the three messages I got comparing HAIM to Amy Grant, every time I say a thing about the band online, I always receive unsolicited feedback on how great HAIM are. From all types of people: bros, girls, adult music writers, tenagers. I hate to draw sweeping conclusions by limited induction (no I don’t), but there’s just this air of inevitability to HAIM. Maybe it’s their great PR firm or insidery connections. I don’t really care because the proof is right there, available on iTunes for like eight bucks. Best rock album of the year?