For years they have been singled out as the all-female band from LA. In response to critics always prefacing HAIM with some reference to their gender, the band’s third album, Women in Music Pt III (WIMPIII), cuts straight to the point: stop focusing on our gender and focus on our talent.
Drawing on numerous musical reference points, such as folk, funk and jazz, WIMPIII is HAIM’s most experimental album to date. Where the heavy 90s R&B influence on ‘3am’ is a satirical love letter to the late-night booty call, ‘Leaning On You’ is more romantic, taking a gentle, acoustic form. Not forgetting the formula that brought their past albums success, the soft-rock of ‘The Steps’ draws most parallels with ‘Want You Back’, where ‘Up From a Dream’ carries the glam rock recipe that made ‘Don’t Save Me’ such a fan favourite. With such experimentation on one record, to continue the Fleetwood Mac comparison would be lazy.
Perhaps most emblematic of this new era of HAIM is opening track ‘Los Angeles’. “Los Angeles / Give me a miracle, I just want out from this”, Danielle Haim sings, evidencing the band’s stream of consciousness approach to writing. Decorated with baritone saxophone embellishments, buttery harmonies and a groovy bass, the track embodies HAIM’s experimental yet simplistic approach.
Despite the So-Cal shiny gloss inherent to any HAIM song, the lyrics on WIMPIII are rooted in more personal affairs. Introspective in nature, the album reflects the troubles that the band have endured. From loss (‘Hallelujah’) to relationships (‘Don’t Wanna’) to depression (‘I Know Alone’), the lyrics are freeing and reveal previously concealed wounds. It is this specificity that gives WIMPIII its strength. As ‘I’ve Been Down’ reflects on the impact of mental health on identity: “Would you even pick me out in the crowd? / ‘Cause I can’t recognize myself now”, HAIM wear their heart on their sleeve. Even with the tragedies underlying the writing process, the finished product is a fairly upbeat album, mastering the art of euphoric melancholy.
The raw moments on the album are just as impactful. The shortest track, ‘Man From The Magazine’, strips down the layers of production to create an intimate moment whereby HAIM directly confront the misogyny they’ve faced as a consequence of being in the music industry. Clashing with the delicate guitar strings, Danielle’s vocals pack a punch, quoting sexist questions interviewers have posed the band in the past. As she sings how “You don’t know how it feels, you expect me to deal with it / ‘Til I’m perfectly numb”, her vocals take on a grittier sound, with the listener being able to feel the band’s anger at the inequalities they have had to face. Reflective of a systemic issue they’ve tackled before, from the lack of women in production roles, to being taken as groupies rather than musicians, ‘Man From The Magazine’ epitomises the rage that HAIM have built up during their seven years in the limelight.
Closing the album with the singles ‘Now I’m In It’, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Summer Girl’ exemplifies the tone of WIMPIII: all three songs show HAIM giving negativity a positive face – the choice to close the record with ‘Summer Girl’ feels clever, with the band’s yearning for LA resolving the uncertainty expressed towards the city in the first track. Again, a self-referential move for a band with a reputation for just talking about being from LA. Rooting the album in the place they grew up in furthers the personal approach confronted on WIMPIII. The song was written when Danielle’s partner was recently diagnosed with cancer, thus representing hope in a hopeless place, something which couldn’t be more pertinent given current circumstances. Driven by a buzzing saxophone hook that transforms into a free and warm solo, ‘Summer Girl’ becomes WIMPIII’s sunset, drifting on into the night.
WIMPIII is multifaceted to say the least. Emotionally, lyrically and musically it makes a statement. A clever mash-up of themes and sounds, HAIM skilfully navigate the space between genres, questioning norms of commercial music. Vulnerable yet edgy, melancholy yet positive, WIMPIII shows the band exhibiting a new kind of freedom and acceptance. Most importantly, however, the album is a reclamation. WIMPIII confirms HAIM as unapologetic, encapsulating the ample talent that they possess.
Words by Lucy Robinson