Tuesday, 1 October 2013

HAIM - Days Are Gone


There are only a handful of artists that can cater for both the popular and the alternative audience. Jessie Ware outlined what it was to be an extended pop musician in the modern age with last year’s Devotion. Ware pushed the limits of R&B and pop music, with dabbles of electronic and hip-hop. It's a blend of music that has grown to be respected in 2012/2013, as more and more musicians are leaning to this electronic focussed R&B. Where R.Kelly and Nelly failed to achieve alternative listeners; Jessie Ware, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, they grabbed alternative listeners by their ears and engaged in a new genre: PBR&B. The denotation of hipsters is clearly at the heart of this genre labelling, as anyone who likes alternative music is ultimately a hipster in the eyes of Taylor Swift - you're also either from Brooklyn, New York or Los Angeles, California. Sunset skies and bleach blonde beaches have been inspiration for many artists over the years, more recently the golden state has been the only place for Best Coast... But back in the 60s, The Beach Boys were paying homage to surfing and the Californian sound from their start. It's not an inspiration for R&B however...

HAIM pushed through the capitalist system as BBC Sound of 2013 victors; releasing only a handful of singles and an EP prior to the announcement. They were the outside bet with a few question marks raised as to why a Californian band who sound like a bad Jessie Ware from the United States are on a BBC shortlist. This is 100% down to their signatures on a Polydor Records contract. Savages and The Weeknd made BBC's shortlist, neither made the top five - just the sort of objective popularity contest the Radio One A-list is used to. So HAIM's surprise surpassed that of unlucky California 2011 finalists Warpaint, who never made the final cut. This was of course after their phenomenal debut EP (which still gets regular listens as it's essentially one of the best debut EPs in existence.) Warpaint faded away after their debut album, and we're still expecting an improved follow-up. BBC's predictions are always far from the truth, though the broadcasting corporation push their artists, they drive them to the edge of the cliff and ask them to get back in the car and come for a capitalist ride, or jump off like Corinne Bailey Rae or Duffy. It's no surprise that the nervous faces of HAIM were performing to the awkward face of David Cameron on the Andrew Marr Show. Now when PJ Harvey did this in 2010, she aced it. An artist who rightfully has an opinion on British politics who gets her messages across through music, especially with Let England Shake. HAIM looked lost as musicians on stage, with no bass, no strings, no courage... It was a shambles, performed to the prime minister who couldn’t give one shit really. That sly: "This is for you DC," has also been taken out of context by the British media, as with the political nature of The Andrew Marr Show... HAIM's secretive jab to Washington DC and their notorious 'to the wire' decision making has been overlooked, one which stands correct as the US enters yet another shutdown.

Their nature of performance reflects on to the album too. When listening to Days Are Gone, there’s always a little question in the back of the head, it's asking if there’s any more. They seem to be half arsing it, as in: 'why am I doing this'. They've changed direction over the course of their careers, and this R&B/pop hybrid seems to be the work of corporate influence. HAIM have their influences and lyrics tied up neatly in Days Are Gone, it's just the musical aspect and feel of the music that asks serious questions of legitimacy. This music has been done before, and nine times better. HAIM's biggest threat isn’t approval, companies have covered that for them (Roc Nation,) it's whether or not their music will age well. I've got to be honest, the soulful R&B-esque soft rock sounds of the 70s and 80s have not aged well. Fleetwood Mac are no exception to the rule. Days Are Gone drags on without any real meaning or distinctive characteristics. When the important key tracks take centre stage, they fail to grab the listener with the money shot. "The Wire" is the one piece of music on Days Are Gone where big orchestral instruments are needed, with serious focus. HAIM ignore this and pretend to be content with a simple bass riff and a synthesizer replicating bass. It's all wrong, take out the bass emulating synthesizer and put the strings in early. Then there's a variety of instruments, whoch would make "The Wire" a fantastic song. The strings are minimal and enter at 3:00, too little too late. 

Days Are Gone has tracks that belong in the 80s, and should be locked away. "Forever" is one of them, "Honey And I" is another. They're drawn out tracks featuring basic bland instrumentals found in the 80s with no real twist. The question looms, is this it? The guitars are well produced and the overall feel of the album is: "fun," but it's no different from what Hanson could come out with if Mercury Records asked them to do R&B. The family set up has never really worked (The Osmonds, The Corrs) with the exception of early Kings of Leon, and this could be argued - the commercial aspects of a family band outweigh creativity. The opening track "Falling" sounds like Jessie Ware, simple as that. HAIM share lead vocals, but neither one of them is stronger than the other - It's all rather simple and passive. Listening to Days Are Gone is no challenge, the sisters have made a pretty decent album of 80s re-hash and today's top quality artists.

There's delay on beats which would sound better without it - "If I Could Change My Mind". Strangely familiar sounds on "Go Slow", (I’m hearing Kate Bush's "This Woman’s Work".) Even the self-titled track sounds like a Jessie Ware carbon copy, and that’s because Ware helped write it. This complete and dedicated focus on combing the popular and alternative listeners has ultimately left Days Are Gone tied between them, with a foot in each door. Even the closer "Running If You Call My Name" sounds like more of an influence cover rather than an original. Kate Bush is plastered all over it... Bush combined alternative and popular in the 80s and still does today, just as Ware is doing with her music. HAIM hear this and attempt to replicate Bush's alternative synthpop / soft rock sound with the popular sounds of three girl singers (Sugababes, TLC, and their favourites, Destiny's Child.)

HAIM have potential; have. If they don't switch up their musical direction, then they'll be left to rot in the future, like Biff in Back to The Future II. Days Are Gone isn’t a bad album, far from it. Plenty of this album is a drag, except the considered hits: "The Wire", "Forever", and "Falling". To have all the quality material in the first three tracks is one thing, but to have no killer final track, or mid-album single, is another. It makes Days Are Gone sound flawed as an album. HAIM can't help falling down this hole, as the genre is leading them in to a novelty. They've failed to grab the wrists of R&B, as their electronics are minimal and mostly bass synthesizer related. Days Are Gone would fit in a collection alongside Maroon 5, Little Mix, and dare I say it, One Direction. The three sisters certainly don’t have the audacity of The Shaggs, the song-writing or musical quality of Jessie Ware, or the vocal distinction and artistry of Kate Bush. It's a real shame, because parts of Days Are Gone are promising. "The Wire" is the standout track, and acts as the hit factor, it's just rendered thanks to an ill-thought out instrumental. "If I Could Change Your Mind" may very well be a number one hit, in 1986... But still, a very good sounding, just dated and unoriginal. HAIM are very average, they're about as interesting as the new Paul McCartney single - there’s too much of it, but not enough. HAIM have something here, they just need to work on their sound and come out with something more original. It's pop music for the alternative fans, and alternative music fpr the pop fans - Days Are Gone is in no man’s land.
~Eddie

6.0

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