Grant Pollard / AP
Talking about the band Haim often quickly becomes an exercise in naming older bands they remind people of. So, to get this out of the way: Haim’s new album, Something to Tell You, draws from Fleetwood Mac, Wilson Phillips, Talking Heads, Shania Twain, TLC, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Heart, George Michael, Fleetwood Mac, and many others. Did I mention Fleetwood Mac? Especially the Tango in the Night album.
But reducing Haim to a list of references both papers over what makes them interesting and slightly overestimates them. On the first count: The three Los Angeles sisters have broken into the pop consciousness because they are innovators, having hit on a distinctive formula rooted in syllable stacking, syncopation, and harmony. On the second count: Something to Tell You, a cheerful elaboration of their first album, suggests they don’t yet possess the same sense of daring that characterizes some of their greatest influences.
The Summer of Cornball Superproducers
Haim’s songs breathe and fidget like living things. Often, lead singer Danielle Haim breaks words into a cluster of onomatopoeias delivered rapid-fire, making sentences sound like tongue twisters even without alliteration. Other times, the three women orchestrate complicated call-and-responses across their voices and instruments. The rhythms have a spiky, loping quality, evoking a jalopy puttering up a hill then racing down the other side again and again. These tics can be outfitted in various kinds of sounds—hence the wide range of bands Haim is compared to—and can wring a lot of excitement out of simple, repetitive melodies.
The neat thing about this shtick is that it’s a match for Haim’s subject matter, obsessive love and heartbreak. The yammer of the music mimics the yammer of a brain rehearsing a hypothetical heart-to-heart with a significant other or ex. These songs are written as strings of unanswered “you” statements and humblebrag-y “I” confessions. “Go on and say it,” Danielle urges in one chorus. “Was my love too much for you to take? I guess you never knew what was good for you.” This is the kind of truth-talking someone might workshop in their mind but never actually say out loud. Hence the album title: Something to Tell You.
The magic of Days Are Gone was in how the band arrived with this routine fully realized in a slew of pillowy, all-enveloping anthems. That album’s emotional world felt hermetically sealed, and the three sisters came across as all parts of the same consciousness. But for Something to Tell You, their sense of sanctuary is pierced by newly activist production: helium-huffing vocal manipulation, sci-fi drum panning, regal string sections. The tricks—overseen, as with the previous album, by the producer Ariel Rechtshaid—give the album a grander scope. But they also sometimes break the illusions of intimacy and effortlessness that have been essential to Haim’s charm.
There are nevertheless some excellent passages here. In the standout “Ready for You,” afro-pop bustle underlies a chorus in which the sisters repeatedly lock together for one big, juicy refrain: “I wasn’t / ready / for you!” The bridge features an ecstatic key change, after which the band—with the help of aforementioned studio fussing, put to its best use on this song—tears things down and rebuilds. Listening to the song is like remembering some comforting truth about an old relationship, letting it fade to back of the mind, and then remembering it again, and again.
On the level of songwriting, nothing on Something to Tell You couldn’t have been on Days Are Gone.
As that song shows, the band is at its best when gathering and releasing momentum. “Nothing’s Wrong” starts with lonely guitar licks and drawled singing before sparkling keys, reverberating drum blasts, and stuttering background vocals join to create a sensation of somersaulting forward. The spare R&B of “Walking Away” takes a tonally opposite approach, with Danielle testifying in a falsetto whisper as her sisters coyly repeat the song title. You feel as if everything here is floating up, cloud-like, befitting the lyrical topic of evaporating affection. Then there’s “Right Now,” a slow burner with hissing percussion and lonely vocal rounds. A huge eruption of guitar comes midway through, but the song then returns to minimalism—life goes on.
A few solid stabs at radio pop here also should help get Haim included in breezy summer playlists. “Little of Your Love” has a stiffer rhythm than most of their songs, but the playfulness of the accompanying horn section and of the chirpy chorus can’t be denied. The first single, “Want You Back,” is also an effective mood enhancer, though it remains less than a masterpiece thanks to some faddish production choices. The sentimental climax of the album, the string-laden “Found It in Silence,” builds in such a way that you’ll probably see it in a some forthcoming TV-show season finale in which “will-they, won’t-they” tension is resolved.
Now, back to those references. In concert, Haim sometimes covers Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” a pre-Stevie Nicks cut of walloping, un-poppy blues rock. That choice would suggest the band wants to be known for not only its superficial kinship with great rock bands that came before but also for its spiritual kinship—a sense of sonic adventure, a willingness to rip things up and shock its audience, Tusk-like. But two albums in, Haim hasn’t really proven it. Something to Tell You broadens the group’s sound, but on the level of songwriting, nothing here couldn’t have been on Days Are Gone—and none of it exceeds that album in quality. Without pushing further, Haim may not become a truly classic act. Then again, they already have achieved one marker of greatness: coining a unique sound that, someday soon, may get other bands compared to Haim.