Label: Universal Music Operations Ltd.
Release Date: 26th June 2020
"Not only has this third album confirmed Haim are here to stay: Women In Music Pt. III cements the Haim sisters’ titles of queens of California dreaming."
The build-up to pop-rock trio Haim’s new album Women in Music Pt. III has spanned ten months, from the release of ‘Summer Girl’ last August to the subsequent releases of ‘Now I’m In It’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘The Steps’, ‘I Know Alone’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna’. These tracks promised us an album which was a continuation of the band’s confident, rhythm-driven brand of Californian pop-rock, but with a more self-assured, experimental, vintage take on this established trademark. Primary lyricist Danielle’s work on Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride (2019) teased her growth as a musician. A new Haim album was only ever going to demonstrate musical maturity.
The album’s opener, ‘Los Angeles’, is an ode to the sisters’ hometown on the surface, beginning with an alto saxophone that would blend exquisitely into the atmosphere on a beach in Santa Monica, but delving in deeper, one gets the sense of a complicated relationship with where the narrator calls home. “Give me a miracle, I just want out of this / I’ve done my share of helping with your defence” provides an insight into how exhausting Haim believe coming to LA’s defence is. The lyrics even acknowledge that New York is “clearly the greatest city in the world” but it just isn’t home. Whilst the topic of this song is perhaps semi-trivial, frustration over LA’s bad reputation is certainly not as heavy as some of the topics to come. Cleverly aligning the album with California, the listener is transported to a warm climate before diving into the rest of the tracks.
What is initially most striking about the production on the album is not its warmth or its inspired vintage nods, but its experimentalism. Before the music kicks in on ‘Up From A Dream’, a manipulated yawn sounds, creating a conceptualised approach to what Danielle describes as one of the heaviest songs the band has ever written. Vocal panning then becomes a prominent feature on ‘Up from A Dream’. This is also something that Haim have not experimented so explicitly with before. ‘3am’ begins with a dial tone, and then what can only be described as akin to an LA hip-hop sample, something that would be alien on Haim’s previous records Days are Gone and Something To Tell You. Somehow, perhaps due to the impressive musicianship displayed on Women in Music Pt. III, the experimentalism is not jarring. It plays into the established LA context and seamlessly works its way through the album, embellishing rather than diminishing the work’s worth.
Complementary of this, the overall music is tinged with vintage guitar sounds that further plays into the LA jukebox persona this record proudly carries. When ‘The Steps’ was released in March, during my first listen I was instantly transported into a world of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. The opening four snare hits, the building drums and the deep-toned guitar lick effortlessly introduce Danielle’s vocals blasting out “So baby / When I’m near you / You can’t feel me / I’m lightning”. It has an addictive thriving chorus, spelling out a troublesome relationship, with the vocal pining “I don’t understand why / You don’t understand me, baby”. Perhaps this displayed too much vulnerability so the middle eight returns to Danielle’s indifferent cool-girl façade, stating “If you go left and I go right / Maybe that’s just life sometimes.”
This 70s-esque sound is carried into a different format on ‘Man From the Magazine’. A personal favourite of mine, I feel as if this track carries me into Joni Mitchell’s 70s. The vocal accompanied by a simple, solo guitar perfectly shapes bold lyricism such as “I don’t want to hear / It is what it is / It was what it was”, showcasing Danielle’s low vocal register. For a track that is hitting back at strange commentary the band has received, such as when Este was asked whether she made the same face she makes when playing live, in bed. This was a comment that she was expected to politely laugh off. It is interesting that they tackled such a topic with punching lyrics rather than punching instrumentation that may have been expected of the sisters prior to this new album.
Beyond the sonic development on this album, the subject matter of their songwriting has also moved past empowering anthems about relationships. These can still be found in the forms of 'I Don’t Wanna', 'Another Try', and 'All That Ever Mattered', but mental health also becomes a big feature of the album. Having suffered from depression following her partner’s diagnosis of testicular cancer, Danielle’s lyrics reflect this dark, hopeless void. Whilst 'I Know Alone' may have been moulded by life during a pandemic, the song talks of the deepest anxieties about one’s troubles being a burden on others. 'I’ve Been Down' was the last song that the sisters wrote for the album and Este describes the repetitive, eponymous chorus as a form of therapy. To a listener, it feels almost as if it’s an explanation as to why Haim have darkened their songwriting since Something To Tell You.
My one criticism is that I wish the three songs the trio released first, ‘Summer Girl’, ‘Now I’m In It’ and ‘Hallelujah’, were incorporated more into the album, rather than being described as ‘Bonus Tracks’. They may have been released before the band knew what these tracks would become part of, but they still make sense within the album’s context. ‘Now I’m In It’ is one of my favourite songs Haim has ever released: it’s the perfect walking song. It would perform well a few tracks into the album, driving it forward, but still holding the record together because of its references to existentialism and hitting a rock bottom.
‘Hallelujah’ is definitely a track for the closing part of an album, featuring the rarity of solo vocal lines from not only Danielle, but also Este and Alannah, and quintessential Haim harmonies. It’s purely its description as a ‘Bonus Track’ which separates it from the rest of the album. ‘Summer Girl’ may be an attempt at bookending the album, but again it being described as a ‘Bonus Track’ implies that it is not part of the main body of work. The saxophone and the opening line “LA on my mind” hark back to opening track ‘Los Angeles’, with the theme of light at the end of a tunnel, in this case, Danielle’s partner’s illness, tying all the loose ends of the record together. Why would this be intended as a bonus track?
The idyllic setting for a listen of this album would be on the open road driving through Big Sur, with the windows down, perhaps after a monumental world event like the current pandemic, when life begins to move forward once more. Not only has this third album confirmed Haim are here to stay: Women In Music Pt. III cements the sisters’ titles of queens of California dreaming.
Words by Sarah Jewers.
28th June 2020.