Intimate And Revealing, HAIM’s ‘Women In Music Pt. III’ Is Their Best Album Yet

By blowing up their established formula, HAIM have hit upon something much more meaningful.

haim review women in music pt. iii

In the early 2010s, few new musical acts were so clearly destined for success as HAIM.

Three sisters from Los Angeles, Danielle, Este and Alana Haim had an obvious, casual charisma, as both musicians and public figures — it was like you’d always known them.

Their debut album, 2013’s Days Are Gone, perfectly rode the wave of the big, colourful, genre-agnostic pop-rock of the era, alongside the likes of Fun., Paramore, even Gotye… but no one sounded quite like HAIM’s distinct fusion of the classic rock, radio pop and R&B they’d grown up on.

The band rocketed to stardom, and soon came a bombastic collaboration with Calvin Harris, an opening slot for Taylor Swift — and three spots in her girl squad.

In 2017, HAIM returned with the highly anticipated Something To Tell You — which turned out to be a solid, yet unspectacular follow-up where they doubled down on being studio musicians. They remained a constant presence in pop culture, with a steady stream of YouTube covers, and dreamy analogue music videos directed by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson — but the Haim sisters seemingly had no interest in playing the role of glitzy popstars or swaggering rockstars.

Women In Music Pt. III, delayed two months by the COVID pandemic, comes with an album cover and title that might seem amusing, at first. The cover photo shows the sisters standing in front of salami and the number 69, but there’s a deeper meaning — it was taken at Canter’s, the famous Jewish deli in LA that was the setting of their first gig in 2007.

HAIM is a family business, and this is their homecoming.

And the title, which came to Danielle in a dream, is a retort to every man in the industry who’s ever looked down upon them. Yes, they have always been women in music. Make no mistake: HAIM is a family business, and this is their homecoming.

‘Los Angeles’ opens the album with the same kind of mystical, fluttering saxophone that that closed out last year’s single ‘Summer Girl.’ Danielle has never sung about her hometown with such tenderness, yet melancholy: “Los Angeles/Give me a miracle, I just want out of this/Just got back from the boulevard, can’t stop cryin’…”.

As the album progresses, it becomes clear that HAIM have rebuilt their entire approach to recording music from the ground up. Where Something To Tell You oft felt too intricate, like sonic navel-gazing, Women In Music is looser, freer, but always purposeful.

‘The Steps’ swings like ’60s garage-rock, as Danielle’s vocals vent more frustration in one song than their entire career to date: “Every time I think that I’ve been taking the steps/You end up mad at me for makin’ a mess/I can’t understand why you don’t understand me!” Trying to improve yourself, but going around in circles — could there be a more universal late-twenties experience?

In the music video, the Haims angrily put on and take off their makeup and clothes, while Danielle beats the hell out of a drum kit. On an album where she’s mostly singing softer, those bursts of anger are a well-earned relief.

‘I Know Alone’ emerged from a period of deep depression Danielle experienced after coming off the band’s last tour. Her vocals are unusually robotic, deliberately auto-tuned too tightly over a skittering UK garage beat. “I don’t wanna give too much/I don’t wanna feel…/Some things never grow/I know alone like no one else does…”

It takes courage to write and sing lyrics that almost feel petulant, like teen diary poetry. It’s ironic, of course — everyone’s felt like they were the first person to discover loneliness. But Danielle sings it straight, like she’s trying to rediscover the one little speck of empathy she still has for herself. ‘I Know Alone’ is brutally relatable, but it transcends the moment — it’s no simple “isolation anthem.”

Danielle’s artistry feels like it’s matured a decade in the last three years.

HAIM’s songs are usually about romantic (mis)communication; Danielle, Este and Alana describe their feelings, almost always addressing “you” in the second-person. Truthfully, they’ve never been great lyricists. Both prior albums lean on filler words and syllables to create rhythmic hooks that are catchy, but often meaningless when read on the page.

Take the chorus of ‘Falling,’ for example: “Into the fire, feeling higher than the truth/I can feel the heat, but I’m not burning/Fear and desire feed the tired, hungry tooth…”. HAIM have made great pop songs regardless, but their intricate musical arrangements have oft said what their words could not.

On this album, Danielle’s artistry has greatly matured. Where she’d once emphasise her consonants with Michael Jackson-like drama, here she’s relaxed and intimate, singing directly to you, letting her words speak for themselves.

Midway through the album, the songs shift from melancholia to gratitude. On ‘Gasoline,’ she paints a portrait of her lover: “We’re watching the sunrise from the kitchen counter/When you’re lying between my legs it doesn’t matter.”

Women In Music is full of such fleeting moments of beauty, like watching a cloud pass by on an ordinary, carefree day. Like Taylor Swift or Jenny Lewis, Danielle’s growing into a generational balladeer — the kind who can disarm or wallop your emotions with a single turn of phrase.

Through Danielle’s singing and the band’s arrangements, HAIM’s music has always been about the power of small gestures to create connections that blossom into deeper relationships. Women In Music is an album for headphones, with the analogue warmth of Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan… or Vampire Weekend’s sprawling Father of the Bride from last year, where Danielle sang on three duets, co-produced by her partner Ariel Rechtshaid.

Alana and Este’s roles aren’t as apparent as before; they sing far fewer leads, and most of the songs aren’t straightforward guitar-bass-drums combos. Even so, Women In Music never feels like a Danielle Haim solo album, but a true collaboration between the three sisters and their co-producers, Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij.

So much of Women In Music is new to HAIM, but still feels instantly familiar. ‘3am’ depicts a booty call with weird, jazzy G-funk synths — but it never feels out of place. ‘All That Ever Mattered’ deploys a wailing scream as a chorus hook, with equally noisy, Prince-inspired guitar shredding.

‘Man from the Magazine’ is eerily reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, as Danielle recalls all her worst interview questions while playing ambiguous, open acoustic guitar chords. Halfway through, a lone syncopated bass drum creeps in, cutting the tension like a knife. It’s a tiny moment that’s one of the most thrilling on the album.

‘FUBT’ ends the album abruptly, mid-phrase: “It’s fucked up but it’s true/I’m just gon’ keep on loving you.” You never want to leave that headspace, and you crave more emotionally mature pop goodness — but hey, Women In Music isn’t the destination. It’s a transitional album, a snapshot of where HAIM are now.

Women In Music is full of such fleeting moments of beauty, like watching a cloud pass by on an ordinary, carefree day.

And for once, all three bonus tracks — the pre-release singles — are killer. ‘Summer Girl’ sounds even warmer than it did almost a year ago. ‘Now I’m in It’ channels new wave via Savage Garden, and might be the catchiest summation of the album’s themes. And ‘Hallelujah,’ where each sister sings their own verse, is the Haims’ ode to each other through the good times and the bad.

Women In Music Pt. III will be described as HAIM’s most raw, personal album to date — two common clichés. The truth is, it’s their only raw album, and their most personal by leaps and bounds. It might not have the splashy impact of Days Are Gone, but it’s even better — the most exciting new band of 2013 has grown up. HAIM have blown up their formula; now they can continue for decades to come.

There’s no question that Women In Music Pt. III is HAIM’s best album. It’s both their softest and most daring work, with the most love to give.

HAIM’s Women In Music Pt. III is out now via Universal Music Australia. 

Richard S. He is 1/2 of Melbourne alt-pop duo ELLE, and an award-winning journalist. Tweet your grievances to @rsh_elle.