Tuesday, October 1st witnessed the long-anticipated release of HAIM's debut album, Days Are Gone. It is a masterwork. It is music that burrows in your brain and stays there.
If news of this band is new to you, and you're wondering what in the world HAIM even stands for, just realize that it's a capitalized iteration of the bandmates' last names. They're sisters (the band's fourth and final member, drummer Dash Hutton, holds no relation to the other three....other, that is, than the ability to produce fantastic music). Named Danielle, Este & Alana Haim, they grew up in SoCal's San Fernando Valley, bumping classic rock and rocking out with their musically-inclined parents from an early age onward. Danielle and Este first popped up briefly in 2005, as members of another band that had a single track make its way onto The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' soundtrack, but Days Are Gone, coming to us today through, of all places, Jay-Z's Roc Nation, is their debut album and first, real extended moment of exposure. And it's a treasure, arguably the best album of the year. This is a statement one doesn't disseminate lightly -- 2013 has been a banner year for music thus far. The monuments to 21st century luxury pop, Timberlake's 20/20 Experience(s) and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories have dominated the radio cycle, while My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie have made much-heralded returns after long hiatuses, and Kanye's inexhaustibly creative Yeezus impressed me to literally no end while leaving millions of others bewildered. But HAIM's Days Are Gone challenges them all, and with none of the same available avenues for backlash. It is endlessly, impossibly, intoxicatingly listenable.
Heretofore, the HAIM sisters were known primarily for their prowess as a high profile cover band, having bedazzled listeners with a veritable murderer's row of new takes on familiar tunes. They've provided inspired riffs on Sheryl Crow, Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, Miley Cyrus, and Fleetwood Mac. The connection to Fleetwood Mac is particularly notable, given that they are the band & sound that HAIM is most frequently compared to.
However, Days Are Gone establishes conclusively that these girls aren't content to merely be pop's most prolific imitators; their original material thumps on its own accord just as effortlessly and relentlessly as any of these preexisting cover tracks. The homages to Fleetwood Mac are definitely in there, but HAIM's sonic palette is far too eclectic to be reduced to any 1:1 comparison. There's a reason they've caught the eyes of Roc Nation here, people. Their presentation is in many ways the very embodiment of the way the iGeneration consumes its music--via shuffling, mashup, pastiche. They're The Pretenders by way of The Neptunes, or perhaps Levon Helm by Leona Lewis, or better yet the beautiful, moxie-laden lovechild of a late night Riesling-fueled rendezvous between Rumours and the Romeo Must Die record.
HAIM's also repeatedly referred to as indie rock, but that designation is highly limiting as well. Take, for instance, the band's new track "Honey & I," a song that left esteemed music critic Steven Hyden giddy on Twitter this week, or the space-age reggae roots of "Forever." The precocious guitar riffs, the breathy vocals delivering meaninglessly memorable lyrics as the backing harmonies coo behind them, the clap-clap of the snare drum snapping down like a mousetrap -- these are the tenants of your typical Top 40 girlpower pop, yes, but Haim's delivery of the foundational elements are entirely their own.
It's because no band in contemporary music is incorporating so many varying musical influences in a single setting, not only from track-to-track but within each track itself. HAIM doesn't so much eschew mainstream pop as move past it tangentially, pay deference to present-day peers and their myriad forebearers and influences alike, while also striking out in a new aesthetic direction. "Honey & I" in particular is just a virtuoso piece of pop music -- upbeat, economical, and just unpredictable enough in sonic structure to evade any potential dismissals of triteness. It's the kind of blazingly catchy song that usually only comes from a legendary outfit, one that's been playing together for decades and knows the ins-and-outs each other's skill set and of the commercial scene at large. That HAIM is arriving to the scene with this kind of propulsively original sound should make even the most blasé of music listeners thrilled and fascinated.
And then there's the album's undisputed set piece, "The Wire," a bouncy 4-minute jam that welds the energetic melancholy of the best pretty girl country-pop to an '80s arena-rock backbeat that's right out of Gary Glitter's "Rock n' Roll Pt 2." Despite the many other worthy cuts on this album, "The Wire" -- a song that Grantland's Amos Barshad accurately described this summer as "better than the fourth season of The Wire, seminal U.K. music magazine The Wire, leading tech publication Wired, and the practical good of all wires everywhere put together"--is HAIM's likeliest contender to dominate the cultural landscape this autumn; its place in soda and search engine commercials, Jennifer Lawrence-helmed movie trailers, and a months-from-now remix release featuring a new M.I.A./Frank Ocean/insert other R&B star's verse seems all but guaranteed.
For HAIM, everything thus far has been building towards Days Are Gone. The spot on the BBC's Sound of 2013 poll, the cover appearance on LA Weekly, the joint tour with Mumford & Sons, the raucous and critically-acclaimed performances at the Glastonbury and Governors Ball festivals, it had all been a locomotive of hype that chugged relentlessly towards the album's October release date. And now that album hasn't just lived up to the expectations -- it's surpassed them. With the exception of long-established visionaries like Mr. West and Daft Punk, no contemporary musician(s) are operating with as high a level of creative juices as three 20-something Valley Girls. Days Are Gone proves rather conclusively that, for the Haim sisters & Hutton, their days in the spotlight are really just beginning.
Thomas McKenna is an editorial fellow & blogger for the Huffington Post sports vertical. But he likes writing about good music when he hears it, too. Follow him on twitter @tmckenna1