Haim Shows How to Make the Grown-Up, Totally Fun Breakup Album

Shiny hooks, chipper arrangements—and a surprisingly complicated message
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Jay Z’s Made in America festival in Philadelphia last month brought out a mass of MDMA-and-Budweiser-affected kids unified by a love of Beyoncé, Nine Inch Nails, and/or American-flag tank tops. But the people I saw having the most fun, by far, were the three sisters who front the band Haim—striking guitar-hero poses, waggling tongues at the crowd, and happily returning a pair of tennis shoes chucked by a wasted bro-fan.

You hear that same sense of fun and the same callbacks to classic rock tropes on the four-piece’s fantastic debutDays Are Gone, out now. It’s a clattering, busy album crammed with joyful “hey!”s and "chicka-uh!"s, disco violins, and guitar solos. The hooks are the kind that listeners internalize so quickly it's hard to believe they haven’t been in the canon always.

But after the rush of early listens, Days Are Gone starts seeming a smidge less fun. You begin to notice the slack-tempo, melancholic verses that surround some of those sunny choruses. This underlying, gradually revealed sadness ends up being a good thing. What at first seems like a straightforwardly great album for, say, hitting the gym or driving fast is actually something even more useful: a grown-up, conflicted breakup album. 

There are clichés here—as The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis puts it, “Haim write the kind of lyrics in which perfidious lovers have lying eyes and there's nothing good in goodbye." But like a lot of good breakup albums, Days Are Gone uses its clichés to get granular, compellingly laying out the stages (betrayal, blame, loss of affection, regret) that accompany romantic failure. More importantly, it binds them together with one devastating idea: inevitability.

With a solitary, album-opening pulse that eventually builds to pandemonium, “Falling”  sets up that idea with the helpful if well-worn metaphors of gravity, forward movement, and flames. The desire to rewind and redo a relationship shows up on subsequent tracks, but so does the knowledge of just how impossible that is. The jaunty single "Forever," for example, features two verses and choruses of pleading—"let's figure it out, let's get back to where we started out"—before slowing down for a bridge that reveals the battle to figure things out ended long ago: "Go go go go get out, get out of my memory."

This very relatable interplay between the fantasy of fixing everything and the knowledge that that's a fantasy shows up again and again on Days Are Gone. Moving on, the message seems to be, means being OK with the fact that you might never completely move on.

It’s a message that the Haim sisters deliver especially well. Their shared vocal duties allow them to communicate conflicting or overlapping sentiments in rounds: "Was it something I said? / I know it was something I said," go the layered voices on "Go Slow." The arrangements, packed with clicky-clack rhythms, guitar-bass bustle, and a delightfully incongruous influences (En Vogue! Shania Twain! Led Zeppelin! Lots of '80s bands!), mirror that complication. Same goes for the song structures that veer between pop glisten and weirder, darker passages. The darkness, though, never dominates. That's because Haim's big achievement is making acceptance, fitful and difficult as it can be, sound like what it is: a triumph.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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