I am convinced HAIM are secretly the real Doctor Who. From the opening notes of their stellar 2013 debut Days Are Gone, the sisters—the band is comprised of lead singer and guitarist Danielle, bassist Este (known for her famous bassface), and guitarist and keyboardist Alana—have been on a decade-hopping, genre-bending journey through music with success much too stunning to be of this world. 70s rock, 80s synthpop, 90s R&B, 2000s girl-group harmonies… the band explores them all, oftentimes on the same song, with remarkable passion and versatility.
Luckily for fans HAIM’s sophomore record, called Something to Tell You, expands on these diverse influences to create a body of work that’s half total throwback, half completely new.
The album opens with a seemingly inconspicuous track labeled “Want You Back” detailing, in slightly uninspired lyrics, a relationship that culminated in Danielle’s cheating. Though light and strummy in each of the verses, the chorus paints the wistful vocals across a whirl of vocal pops and hiccups—it’s as if 80s Michael Jackson and Ed Sheeran were tossed into a recording studio together. Almost tourmate Rihanna also dips her fingers into the bridge of the song, where Autotuned “Needed Me”-style descending vocal runs pepper Alana’s chants of “Just know that I want you back.”
Unfortunately for us, Rihanna’s influence largely disappears after the opener; MJ’s, however, does not. Situated perfectly halfway through the album, standout “You Never Knew” somehow combines a strong Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac influence with R&B girlband harmonies (particularly in the chorus, which could’ve fit on any Destiny’s Child album if given a different backing beat) while still effortlessly channeling the King of Pop in each sonic effect. The song contains some of the strongest writing on the record to boot (“Go on and say it/Was my love too much for you to take?/I guess you never knew what was good for you/Don’t keep me waiting/Say the words that you’re too scared to say/I guess you never knew what was good for you”) while discussing the difficulty of maintaining relationships while touring.
Never is the R&B theme more prevalent than on “Walking Away,” one of my favorite three tracks from the album. By utilizing Este’s slap bass to produce a uniquely urban beat and employing Danielle’s breathiest, highest vocals on the chorus the sisters create as song that would sound perfectly at home on any of today’s chill-R&B artists’ albums (Tinashe, anyone?!). With one song, HAIM has made a stronger reach for the crown of Destiny’s Child and TLC than any of the current girl groups ever have.
My two other favorite tracks come back-to-back less than ten minutes into the album—“Little of Your Love” and “Ready for You.” The former is HAIM’s “All About That Bass”—a perfect swirl of sugary pop goodness that explores what 50s doo-wop sounds like in 2017. The rollicking guitars—a bit of a rarity on this album, which relies more heavily on synths than their previous work—and clap-along beat make this song impossible not to dance to. Danielle’s vocals, which have the ability to change their sound and style drastically from song to song, are also particularly excellent here as they strut and pout down the lines.
“Ready for You” is an abrupt change of pace as it incorporates the same drum machine Prince used in the majority of his work and has hints of George Michael’s “Faith” throughout. More than any other song on the album, this one plays with distortion and vocal effects; these are notable about halfway through the track when producer Ariel Rechtshaid layers differently pitched vocals atop each other to make a minor-key harmony. The song, which is Este’s favorite, also includes a striking chorus: “Funny how this whole game played/Three years since I learned your name/The wrong time, the wrong place/I wasn’t ready for you.”
A second listen through Something to Tell You reveals more highlights in both the beginning, middle, and ending sections of the record. “Nothing’s Wrong” sounds like Stevie Nicks’ take on synthpop, and includes even more girl band harmonies in the background of the chorus to give the song three decades of music contained within it. “Kept Me Crying” quickly introduces a subdued drum and guitar beat that sounds eerily similar to George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” but contains none of its confident swagger. This restraint accents Danielle’s voice on the pre-chorus perfectly as she sings, “Kept me crying for so long, my tears have dried/Still when I hear your voice, those tears they come back to mind” before falling into layered distortion in the chorus: “I was your lover/I was your friend/Now I’m only just someone you call/When it’s late enough to forget.” At the end of the song, though, a guitar riff finally roars in and transforms “Kept Me Crying” from a simple rock ballad into a powerhouse anthem of heartbreak.
The last song on the album, titled “Night So Long,” implements HAIM’s experience touring with Taylor Swift into the album by referencing her ballad “Clean.” Both songs have mbira-like sounds accenting slow rhythms under raw vocals; however, “Night So Long” takes things in a more hymnal direction by incorporating angelic harmonies among the sisters. It’s an elegant, simple close to an album filled with more instruments, genres, and lyrics than many would dare to try.
As someone who was a big fan of HAIM’s debut, I was equal parts worried and excited about listening to this album. Could it even hold a candle to Days Are Gone? Fortunately, the four years Danielle, Este, and Alana took to create this record paid off in full. Their sonic experimentation works a stunningly large percent of the time, their instrumental skills remain top-notch, and their harmonies never miss the mark. Something to Tell You is a truly incredible second chapter in the story of pop’s most original band; I can’t wait to read the rest.