An album that opens with a Sax solo and ends with a ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ style ode to Summer might sound like the soundtrack to a late 90s RomCom, but somehow it’s the foundation for the best album yet from the coolest sisters in music.
I’ve been a big fan of Haim ever since I first stumbled upon their song Falling while listening to the radio (remember listening to the radio?). I was hooked. Those early songs like ‘Forever’, ‘Don’t Save Me’ and ‘The Wire’ carved this perfect niche of Fleetwood Mac meets Blondie meets En Vouge and it felt like they were destined to become the defining festival group of the era. It was starting to happen, but even for fans who were fully on board (like me), something was missing from their long awaited second album, Something To Tell You. Maybe they leaned too heavily on sounding like their heroes or maybe the hooks were too incessantly simple, but it felt like the momentum was being lost in terms of musical output.
On the stage, though, HAIM were capitalizing on what makes them such a dynamic trio, their personalities shining through in a way that they didn’t on the records. Women In Music Pt. III is the moment it all collides into an album of effortlessly enjoyable pop tunes that is both the band’s most stripped down record and their most interesting to date.
That opening of Sax on ‘Los Angeles’ is a detail that shows how much life is on each of these songs. I hate to use the word vibe, but songs like this have such an effortlessly cool vibe, like you’re listening to the first take of their jam session. Women In Music Pt. III (or WIMPIII, which is my new favourite title for an album) is so under-produced compared to so many other albums of its style, which gives everything this loose and breathable quality. You don’t usually hear drums this high in the mix, for instance, on a standout like ‘The Steps’. This isn’t the shimmering pop of ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’, and as much as I enjoy that, this style suits HAIM so well.
It’s clearly a pop record, if only because it hops between genres like mad, the Reggae infused ‘Another Try’ leading into one of my favourites ‘Leaning On You’, with its extended country guitar solo ending. On songs like this, as well as the emotional single ‘Hallelujah’, the harmonies are stronger than we’ve ever heard from the group. Of course, Danielle remains the core voice here and more so than ever before she shines both vocally and on the drums on tracks like ‘I’ve Been Down’ and ‘The Steps’. In this sense, you can hear the work that Danielle was doing with Vampire Weekend on 2019’s excellent Father of the Bride across many of the tracks, like she’s brought that back to the band and decided on what sort of writer she wants to be.
Women In Music Pt. III is most definitely an enjoyable record, fun even, but it’s the first time the songs have delved into such dark themes for such a notoriously poppy group. ‘Man From The Magazine’ probably aligns closest with the knowing nod of an album title, a big FU to the sexism that Danielle, Alana and Este have all experienced growing up in the music industry: ‘Man from the music shop, I drove too far for you to hand me that starter guitar’. Alana talks about the loss of her best friend and the massive impact that has had on her life in ‘Hallelujah’, while the remainder of the record leans heavily into dealing with depression and how that impacts every relationship we have in life. That ‘I Know Alone’ was released while the world was in lockdown feels far too close to reality right now, while ‘FUBT’ also melds electronic sounds with the acoustic to try and sum up these dark thoughts. It’s a cliché to say that an album is an artist’s ‘most personal’, but it couldn’t be more true here.
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that ‘Now I’m In It’, which was literally my favourite song of 2019, appears as a ‘Bonus Track’ alongside their other singles from last year. It remains the best track here, the driving bass is as infectious and breath-taking as the first time I heard it, but it actually manages to improve the record as a whole. I was skeptical about what felt like tagging three songs onto the end of the record like this, but instead it actually feels like coming full circle right back to this time last year hearing ‘Summer Girl’. Ending with such a breezy, fun and easy song feels right, plus starting and ending on a Saxophone is so uncool it’s back to being cool again.
Women In Music Pt. III is simply the best album yet from a band who had so much early promise. Expect to see HAIM all over Best of the Year lists once 2020 comes to a close.
Words by Sam Atkins
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