By Alex Szeptycki
The Haim sisters’ third album is their best yet, full of breezy, warm, and masterfully crafted songs.
A reporter asks the Haim sisters (stylized HAIM) “Do you make the same faces in bed?” on the song “Magazine Man.” It’s a revelatory statement on the band’s third record, Women in Music Part III, an explicit disclosure of the implicit bias against women in rock ‘n’ roll. The album cover drives the message home: the three Los Angeles rockers are seen presiding over a sausage market. Their new project calls out the macho bullshit — though not in the way you’d expect. Yes, Women in Music Part III offers a middle finger to doubters, but it wags genially. HAIM’s best release to date is defined less by anger than by reflective lyrics, breezy sounds, impeccable songwriting, and effortless instrumentation.
The record’s initial strength is its sound. Its warm and intelligent production propels the tracks along with liquid ease. In particular, the contributions by the guitars are universally excellent. From the sun-kissed rhythmic passages on “Los Angeles” to the brittle and spastic solo on the bridge of “Up from a Dream,” they do what is needed with style, either blending in or standing out.
It’s a mark of the album’s craft that some highlights are single phrases, even measures. The sisters (Danielle, Este, and Alana) have been meticulous, constructing a number of individual moments with thought and care. On “Los Angeles” a meandering saxophone solo mirrors a melancholy backbeat groove — the conventional is given a welcome twist. Distant chords cascade through the drum- and bass-heavy tune “I Know Alone.” They artfully heighten the tune’s nocturnal claustrophobia: “I know alone like no one else does,” sing the sisters. Small thoughtful touches go a long way.
HAIM’s intelligence leads to a stylistic ubiquity that marks some of the best in pop music. The band draws on a myriad of musical influences, and the diversity is handled with joyous care. You can hear classic rock and ’90s R&B in equal measure across this project, alongside many other influences. “Los Angeles,” the aforementioned opener, matches soft rock with a swaggering backbeat — before the chorus wanders into a reggae lilt. Then the sax solo comes in. HAIM traverses these disparate musical modes with aplomb, combining them or letting them stand on their own.
In the record’s best songs, HAIM weaponizes genre, perfectly pairing thematic and musical ideas. “The Steps” is pure rock nostalgia; Danielle Haim’s jammy guitar screams John Fogerty. The song is an ode to independence, the chorus belting out “every day I wake up and make money for myself/and though we share a bed, you know that I don’t need your help.” It’s another direct nod to Women in Music Part III’s initial statement.The band uses rock ‘n’ roll to celebrate empowerment — and the combination works.
“3 AM” employs similar tactics, albeit in a different way. The intentionally cringey voicemail that opens this tune announces what the song is about. For lack of a better word, it’s a booty call. What follows is pure sultry R&B, with plodding bass and watery synths slinking forward. When the vocals start, however, the effect becomes conflicted. “All I keep thinking is, Have I lost my mind?/But I’m picking up for the last time.” The singer ends up second-guessing her impulsiveness, turning the initially sexy track on its head.
Also, Women in Music Part III is not afraid to take some risks. “All that Matters” is the most experimental (and maybe the best) track the band has ever recorded. It’s a sharp left turn for the group, driven by a drum machine that bristles with post-punk militarism. At the chorus, as the band sings “All that ever mattered was you,” a high-pitched scream, startling as it is haunting, pierces the music. The track closes with a capping guitar solo that, for me, stands as the album’s strongest musical jolt. It’s reminiscent of Jimmy Page’s work on “Fool in the Rain,” skating slowly over the melody while threatening to shatter into a million pieces at any point.
Ultimately, what makes this album so good is not just its impeccable production, but what lies roiling beneath the music. HAIM’s breezy sound is evolving, its signature glossy veneer now covering over a discomfiting darkness. This juxtaposition of polish and blues is not new; Fleetwood Mac perfected the strategy with Rumours, and no band has topped it since. Still, it makes for a compelling musical experience. HAIM mourns “How can I sleep when I can’t dream at night/How can I dream when I can’t sleep at night” over golden-sounding guitars on “FUBT” (short for fucked up but true). The song chronicles an emotionally abusive relationship — it is brutally candid. When the Haim sisters belt out “I’ve been down” on another track, you know they mean it.
I dislike it when a song or artist is praised for being “easy listening.” It’s smugly derogatory, suggesting that a song is pleasant and nothing more. This is exactly the sort of shortsighted critical line one might lob HAIM’s way. But the group’s music is so much more than that. Yes, it’s warm and congenial on the surface. But dig deeper and you’ll find considerable depth. Women in Music Part III is a multidimensional triumph.
Alex Szeptycki is a student from Charlottesville, Virginia, currently studying at Stanford University. He is majoring in American Studies, with a focus in Contemporary Art and Media. He is currently finishing up his senior year, before looking to pursue a career in writing or the arts.