Album Review: Haim “Days Are Gone”

HaimDaysAreGone

So in case you weren’t fully prepped by my 10 Reasons Haim Is The Best Band In The World Right Now run down, I suggest you give it a read, because we need to cut to the chase with this one. Arguably the most anticipated debut album of ’13 has finally arrived, albeit a bit early thanks to the unforgiving internet. Now what other album would I be talking about other than Haim’s Days Are Gone? There’s no need to over-preface with context and backstory, because quite frankly, I’ve already done that (read the article above.) These three sisters are brilliant musicians that have not only proven they can write incredible pop songs full of musical and artistic integrity, but that they are masters of the live stage. Pretty much the only thing they’ve left to prove is whether or not they can craft the perfect album. Just one look at the tracklist, and we’ve already heard most of these songs before between previous releases and live performances, but presenting them as a collection like this can radically change their meaning, value, and context. So let’s see what we’ve got here.

Days Are Gone kicks off with a trio of familiar tracks. The wisely chosen opener is “Falling,” a single released earlier in the year that has bridged their gap into the mainstream just a little closer. Without getting too much into it, the song is a pretty damn perfect landscape of keyboards and authoritative backing vocals. It’s an atmospheric piece, but it captures our attention and leaves us ready to “break free,” so to speak. In another brilliant sequencing move, the vital “make or break” second track slot is filled by the band’s breakout debut piece, “Forever,” which is arguably still their most well-known song. To somewhat of a surprise, this is a re-recorded slight-update from the original EP version. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s better, but that might just be because the first version was so gobsmacking upon its arrival. The new “Forever” is, if anything, just slightly beefed up; by no means is it ruined. The opening trio is brilliantly rounded out with their current single, “The Wire.” This version (as reviewed HERE) is a power-pop-lite (if that isn’t a complete contradiction) update on the bouncy and airy version that has become a live staple, but it works so incredibly well this way that it’s impossible to complain.

As we enter the second quarter of the album, we are introduced to our first “new” track without any previous frame of reference, “If I Could Change Your Mind.” The song brings the energy down about half a notch, but it’s mostly welcomed after the overwhelming and momentous openers. The song is lifted straight out of the 80s, but somehow finds a way to be fresh and exciting. “Change” feels like the first proper “album track” on Days Are Gone, a much needed anchor to hold everything together, and it pairs nicely with its follow-up, “Honey and I.” The simple, bluesy track has been another live staple for the group, but unlike “The Wire,” it doesn’t get much of an update. It doesn’t need one, though, outside of a bit of polishing to make it feel complete. It acts as a bit of a cool-down in pace, but it’s one of the album’s biggest triumphs. Then, right on time comes another “previously known” track, “Don’t Save Me.” The emotion-driven single is by far the highlight of Haim’s career thus far. The way Danielle’s voice carries such emotion and blends with her sisters’ backing vocals is just incredible, and the climax at the end is goosebump-inducing every time. “Don’t Save Me” is perfectly placed in the context of the album, too. They needed something epic to happen here, and I can’t think of a better song to do that with.

We fittingly enter the second half of Days Are Gone with the title track, this time seeing Danielle taking a backseat from the lead vocal duty in favor or Este. The song, co-written with the phenomenal Jessie Ware, once again, feels like an update on a classic, but it’s pretty difficult to determine whether it has more of an ’80s or ’90s vibe (realistically it’s about 50/50.) Either way, “Days Are Gone” is easily one of the album’s catchiest numbers, but it isn’t watered down; it serves a great purpose on the record. Not to mention, it bares a stark contrast to the experimental and rather challenging “My Song 5,” which follows. Between the distorted vocals, dub-step wobble, and roaring electric guitar, the song feels unexpected, until you remember just how capable a band Haim is. “5” is definitely the album’s “art piece,” but it actually does work. It’s almost like bacon and chocolate; it shouldn’t be as successful as it is, but when you know what you’re doing, magic happens. Again, right on time, it’s followed up with another familiar piece, this time “Go Slow,” originally released on their debut EP. Much like “Forever,” it’s re-recorded to fit the album better, but this time it’s a little more drastic.  The vocals are a little more powerful, and Danielle drops lead duty for the second verse. Outside of the original feeling a little more like home, this is probably the superior version.

Days Are Gone then wraps up with a pretty authoritative one-two-punch. The first of the closing duo is “Let Me Go,” not only a live staple, but their go-to show closer that climaxes with the three sisters taking to the drums for a mindblowing finale. The album version has quite a bit to live up to, and despite having a few noticeable updates, it actually does (no drum solo, though!) The energy is there, and their musicianship comes piercing through the otherwise circular piece; it’s a clear highlight of the record that sticks out as a structural success. Then, before we’re even ready, Days Are Gone reaches its grand finale with “Running If You Call My Name,” an interesting, but wildly successful choice for closer. There’s this anticipation and tension running through it that breaks in a completely unexpected way. Once again, it only works because they know what they’re doing. “Running” embodies a bit of joyousness that allows the album to end on a happy note, which is pretty welcomed. They chose to take a “closing” route that wasn’t cliché, and we can only praise them for it. Had they finished with an epic ballad or simple acoustic piece, it’d probably be just fine, but it wouldn’t have been “Haim.” It wouldn’t have been daring and witty like they’ve proven to be.

All in all, Days Are Gone lives up to just that…daring and witty. Most of the sounds found here are familiar. Hell, most of the songs found here are familiar! Over half the album has been released or performed in some fashion, yet the girls managed to make this album feel brand new. The only personal gripe would be the updates on “Forever” and “Go Home,” but they needed to happen. They couldn’t present indie recordings along side polished ones, no matter how intriguing and exciting they originally were. The range and diversity Haim exhibits here is astonishing considering how every track fits comfortably into their “Haim Sound.” At some points, you’ll get blown away by just how intuitive their decisions were, and at other points by how well their risks paid off. I’m not sure anyone could actually find a flaw worth mentioning about the record. If this is your first Haim experience, then you will have your jaw on the ground from start to finish, but it’s going to be a little different if you’ve been following them for some time simply due to familiarity. No matter how long or short your relationship with the band has been, we call all agree on one thing: there’s nothing to feel guilty about with Haim, no matter what your stance on “pop” is. This is a proper alternative pop album that doesn’t shy away from being catchy or memorable, and yet it feels so undeniably cool throughout. These girls are clearly all about making great music, and we’re all invited along for the ride. Days Are Gone is a near-perfect album that absolutely lives up to the hype. It seals the deal for a band that was already put on a pedestal, but it somehow feels like vindication. I applaud their slight of hand.

9.5/10

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