Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - MUSIC REVIEWS - Haim { Poly­dor Records } —KAREN Muller

De­spite the swirl of clas­sic-rock com­par­isons and pop-girl-squad mur­murs sur­round­ing Haim, this pop-rock trio has been in a class of its own from the start. Few bands can launch six suc­cess­ful sin­gles off a de­but record, as Haim did with 2013’s Days Are Gone, and fewer still are ca­pa­ble of jus­ti­fy­ing a spot near the top of fes­ti­val bills for three years af­ter the band’s only al­bum.

Nei­ther the con­cept of the fam­ily band nor the soft rock sound have been strong sig­ni­fiers of “cool” in the 2010s, yet pro­duc­ing mu­si­cal cool is ex­actly what Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim do best. The band’s sec­ond re­lease, Some­thing to Tell You, demon­strates that these mu­si­cians have ex­pertly pol­ished that sound, but the al­bum is too rooted in tried-and-true tac­tics to re­ward many re­peat lis­tens.

Of course, any de­but as big as Haim’s im­me­di­ately sets a high bar, so Days Are Gone was al­ways des­tined to be a tough act to fol­low. The big­gest is­sue with Some­thing to Tell You is that it fol­lows the band’s for­mula for success too closely. In­di­vid­u­ally, the songs are lik­able enough, and the hooks burst with sta­di­um­tour en­ergy, but the al­bum doesn’t of­fer enough dis­tinc­tive sto­ry­telling to be mem­o­rable. “’Cause I got some­thing to tell you, but I don’t know why/ It’s so hard to let you know that we’re not see­ing eye to eye,” the sis­ters har­mo­nize on the ti­tle track’s cho­rus. It’s an apt the­sis state­ment for the al­bum, which re­volves en­tirely around ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships, es­pe­cially long­ing and heart­break.

The 11 tracks all seem to fol­low a loose nar­ra­tive struc­ture: the strained re­al­iza­tions be­tween two peo­ple who don’t want the same thing at the same time, a strug­gle for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the lone­li­ness that comes with break­ing it off for good. Each sis­ter con­trib­uted lyrics to the record, and per­haps out of con­cern for con­ti­nu­ity, they seem to fol­low an un­of­fi­cial Haim style guide: writ­ing ex­clu­sively in sec­ond per­son, telling sto­ries through state­ments that feel per­sonal but guarded in their choice of lan­guage. Their mu­sic plays with the idea of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, but never quite makes the leap. Deal­ing in gen­er­al­i­ties isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a fault when craft­ing a re­lat­able pop song, but most suc­cess­ful songs state fa­mil­iar feel­ings in a way that feels orig­i­nal. At times, Haim’s sim­plis­tic lan­guage feels more like they’re reach­ing for a medium to sup­port a melody rather than try­ing to evoke any­thing gen­uine.

Still, with Haim’s trade­mark ’80s shim­mer at the heart of the al­bum, it’s hard for the band to veer too far off course. Em­brac­ing any era’s “re­vival” sound means risk­ing get­ting writ­ten off as pas­tiche, but the trio’s un­ex­pected com­po­si­tional twists and win­ningly weird pro­duc­tion choices give the record just enough of a mod­ern edge. As on Days Are Gone, Haim is still at its best when it gives tracks a bit of space to sprawl and ex­per­i­ment, as it does in the drawn-out end­ing of “Ready for You” and in the crash­ing es­ca­la­tion of “Right Now.” The only dis­ap­point­ment is that the band doesn’t do it more of­ten. It’s mo­ments like these that keep mid­dling tracks from blend­ing to­gether and of­fer an in­trigu­ing di­rec­tion that war­rants ex­plo­ration on fu­ture al­bums. Though Some­thing to Tell You draws at­ten­tion to the gap be­tween the Haim sis­ters’ in­stru­men­tal prow­ess and lyri­cal ap­proach, it show­cases, more than any­thing, that they’re re­li­able. Promis­ing that the next time the band has some­thing to tell us, Haim gives us mul­ti­ple rea­sons to stick around and lis­ten.

From SZA and Kehlani to Solange and Jhené Aiko, fe­male vo­cal­ists are re­viv­ing r&b as a ther­a­peu­tic space to heal from a de­struc­tive pop in­dus­try.


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