When Days Are Gone was released in 2013, HAIM felt like a completely different band they do now. They were a glimmer of something fresh and exciting within the stale, slow chug of indie-pop at the time, drawing from folk, roots-rock and, most notably, Fleetwood Mac, and coating it with a glossy LA finish. That was seven years ago though, and since then, the indie powers that be seem to have cast HAIM to the side with the same disinterest as any one-and-done hit-maker, despite having the built-in longevity to be much more than that. Granted though, the blame can’t be shifted entirely away from the band themselves, after 2017’s Something To Tell You was a disappointingly forgettable attempt to both recreate the magic of their debut and expand upon it, leaving HAIM as less like members of the cool in-crowd that they’d so deftly weaved their way into, and more like a band succumbing to the destiny of taking an unavoidable post-peak downslide that afflicts so many in indie music. And while HAIM are capable of a lot more than what their sophomore album suggested, it’s begun to feel like even they’re struggling to know where to go. The handful of decent singles they’d released in the second half have 2019 have all been relegated to bonus tracks on this newest album, and despite some early acclaim, it hasn’t been enough to quell the worries of a similarly obtuse pivot that hindered its predecessor so much. That release cycle also had a good early start, and it couldn’t do much to keep it up across the entire thing.
Thankfully Women In Music Pt. III sees HAIM return to much more stable ground, falling between Days Are Gone and Something To Tell You in terms of sound, but leaning quite a bit further towards the former in terms of quality. It’s still a flawed album, but they’re more rooted in the shortcomings that are naturally built into HAIM’s music than anything novel, and for what can generally feel like a back-to-roots album, that’s easy enough to overlook when it’s as generally likable as this is. It’s definitely comfortable in what it’s trying to do, but HAIM’s is a sound that removes any pejorative connotations from such a description and makes it fit the overall intended vibe, and Women In Music Pt. III is as good of a return to that as could’ve reasonably been hoped for.
It’s courtesy of the natural steps forward that have been taken since the last album, now with the more diverse or experimental music moments weaved more tightly into HAIM’s usual base of Californicated, soft-focus indie-pop. The shuffling clink of the backbeat and the grossly unnecessary shrieks on All That Ever Mattered are the one clear outlier, as everywhere else, HAIM opt for a pool of influences that serve as more natural companion pieces to the purer variations of their sound like on Los Angeles and Don’t Wanna. It’s not even that much of a knock that some existing reference points are so clearly defined, as it all meshes together perfectly cohesively; the Oh, Pretty Woman riff of The Steps, the lilting Ace Of Base-esque flow on Another Try and the loose Sheryl Crow impression on I’ve Been Down all either mesh effortlessly with HAIM’s more rustic sonic filter already or have no issue being fed through it, and while the easygoing G-funk progressions and turntable scratches on 3am are a lot further out of their direct wheelhouse, there’s a certain amount of synergy with the hazy cushions of production that naturally come to HAIM that means it works quite well. It’s evident of a back-to-standard approach that comes from Ariel Rechtshaid once again being behind the boards, but his impact is notable in the consistency to Women In Music…’s sound. Even if HAIM don’t have the most longevity in terms of compositions (a factor that comes with how they’ve admittedly worn out an already small pocket of wiggle room they might have once had), focusing on the strengths that made them stand out in the first place is a good move to make, especially when that so naturally falls into the breezy, summer-ready listen that this album is.
That does come with an acknowledgment that, for the grandeur and intent that its title holds, Women In Music… is a pretty light listen. That titular theme does crop up on the assertion of independence on The Steps and the most literal interpretation on Man From The Magazine about how tired of industry condescension the band are just for the fact that they’re women, but on the whole, the primary focus is placed on returning to the well of indie-pop brightness that’s easy to apply and even easier for audiences to like. Even with darker moments of isolation and loneliness on I Know Alone and I’ve Been Down, or the mournful recollection of an emotionally abusive relationship on FUBT, they’re generally overshadowed by relationship songs or more playful dalliances towards the indie-pop songbook, all of which can feel a bit hollow, especially when collated under the banner of Women In Music. That’s not an indictment on the songs themselves though, as the number of summer-indie hits vastly exceeds the less successful cuts, but it’s the one instance when the relative safety of this album might be losing some points for HAIM. There’s more promised than is reasonably delivered, and while what HAIM do bring is definitely good, it’s not hard to apply the typical long-term problem that comes with this band of lacking the staying power to really prevail in the way that they could.
That’s always been a gripe with HAIM, and it’s the one truly frustrating caveat with Women In Music… that stops it from being more than what it is. It’s without question a step in the right direction when it comes to a sturdier sound that’s still free to try new things, but it’s an awkward situation to be in when that still isn’t quite clicking as excellently as it possibly could. Maybe that’s the fault of expectations placed too highly without reasonable evidence to back them up, but it still feels like HAIM have a great album in them, even better than this one which, in a bubble, is the sort of enjoyable, easily-digestible fare that they made their name on and continue to pull off with impressive panache. And that can’t be taken away from them at the end of that day; this is still a really solid album for what it’s trying to achieve, and HAIM returning to a sound they’re clearly more accustomed to and overall better at is always going to be worthy of praise. Even if they could still take it all a bit further, this is exactly the album that HAIM needed to make right now.
For fans of: Fleetwood Mac, Vampire Weekend, Sheryl Crow
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Women In Music Pt. III’ by HAIM is out now on Universal Music.