Album Review: Haim - Something to Tell You
All of the advance reviews of the sophomore album from the sisters Haim mention the four years that have passed since their auspicious debut, Days Are Gone—and this review will be no different, because in the ever evolving landscape of contemporary popular music, four years is a long fucking time.
Four years is even a long time for established artists—but for a brand new act to wait that long between their first and second albums is practically unheard of. It’s a huge risk, and it puts a lot of faith in your audience—that you’ve established yourselves enough in a short amount of time as a band (and a brand) so that you’ll be remembered once you return.
Haim seemingly came out of nowhere—rising quickly with an undeniably infectious blend of 1970s California rock, 1980s Top 40 pop, and 1990s smooth R&B—their Wikipedia claims that while they loosely formed a decade ago, they were a full-time band for around a year before releasing Days Are Gone in the fall of 2013.
In the time between albums, the sisters Haim—Este, Alana, and Danielle—managed to stay in the public eye, and built their brand. They opened for Taylor Swift on a massive stadium tour; they host an Apple Music radio program named “Haim Time”; and they collaborated with clothing company Reformation for a limited edition line of dresses.
And somehow, they managed to carve out the time to toil away on their second album, Something to Tell You—a long gestating effort that came together over the course of the last two years following a false start and period of self-doubt.
Reteaming again with “indie-pop” mega-producer Ariel Rechshaid, as well as Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend), Something to Tell You is akin to the sequel of a big-budget Hollywood film: it takes everything you loved about the first one and turns it up to 100, resulting in slightly diminished returns when all is said and done.
Hey so first thing’s first though, can we just crown the album’s first official single, and opening track, “Want You Back,” as ‘Song of The Summer 2017?’
I was skeptical of this one at first—I’ll admit it—mostly because of how the sisters Haim pretty much go “full Wilson-Phillips” here, making it more than moderately self-aware: beginning with Danielle’s breathy opening line, the big, open chord piano and swirling synths that echo dramatically, and the most knowing wink and nudge of them all—Este and Alana’s backing vocals, coming in panned on the left and right side. It’s all almost too much—too much of a tip of the hat to catchy pop music that came before it, too much studio fuckery as the song continues; but when you give it time, and learn how to enjoy it for what it is, you realize how it well comes together and how well it works, making “Want You Back” probably the most successful song on the album.
In preparation for Something to Tell You, I recently listened to Days Are Gone for the first time in a very long time, and in doing so, I realized that Haim write one kind of song, and they do it two ways—the same can be said about the lyrical content here. Haim write love songs; some of them are about heartbreak, some of them are about the needs and desires that come from a relationship.
And I guess some of them are about the spaces in between the two.
No matter what end of the “love song” the sisters Haim find themselves on, they do so with charisma, sure, but also with an overblown bombast, which winds up being a little distracting if you decide to spend too much time thinking about it (so I recommended not doing that.)
Yes, Days Are Gone was the textbook definition of a slickly produced studio album, but in comparison, Something to Tell You makes that album look like something lo-fi, committed to tape on a four-track. Every song on here is submerged and nearly drowning in various effects and trickery—pitch shifted vocals, computerized flourishes, neat production techniques; you name it, it’s probably on here somewhere, buried deep within the densely layered, and at times, cacophonic mix.
Despite how fun Days Are Gone was overall, it was not wall-to-wall bangers. Smartly sequenced, there were a few songs that were less successful than others, but they were folded in places where they were used to wisely bring the pacing of the album down ever so slightly, only for it to be brought back up again on the next song.
Something to Tell You is not as gracefully structured—and following its strongest song, the rest of the record suffers from some pacing issues as it chugs along, at times unevenly, from one well-produced moment to the next.
Throughout, Haim works back and forth through their myriad influences—pulling out all the 80s pop stops on “Ready For You,” aiming for the rafters on the big sing-a-longs on the sunny sounding “Little of Your Love” and the titular track, and they manage to channel Fleetwood Mac vibes on the jittering, guitar heavy “Nothing’s Wrong,” as well as the slinky and slow burning “You Never Knew.”
Outside of the expensive sounding production values, Something to Tell You suffers from being mostly frontloaded with its most memorable and energetic songs, leaving the latter half of the album to lose momentum—specifically happening in its final three songs: the miscast, slightly out of place hip-hop shuffles of “Walking Away,” the dramatic, tension building, and seemingly out of alignment at times “Right Now,” and the pensive epilogue, “Night So Long.”
Like the aforementioned big budget Hollywood sequel, it’s best not to overthink a lot of things about Something to Tell You, and Haim in general—then you start to see how one dimensional all these songs are, and the conceit of “another love song” starts to test your patience. The production tricks also can wear on you through subsequent listens—the pitch shifted vocals become less and less welcomed and interesting to hear, and the instrumentation, while tight, starts to sound too similar from song to song.
But if you’re able to enjoy Something to Tell You for what it is—a fun record that just wants you to dance and sing along—then it has succeeded in its mission. The “second album” is a challenge for any band, especially one that does so well right out of the gate the way the Haim sisters did. They’ve avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by not making an “interesting” follow up, and they’ve done so in a charming fashion.