Courtesy of Polydor Records

July 13, 2020

TEST SPIN | HAIM’s ‘Women in Music Pt. III’ and Summer 2020

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Nearly two months after a Coronavirus-induced delay, the self-proclaimed ‘not girl-band’ (just ‘band’) HAIM released their third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III. Singles and other teasers have appeared throughout the past year, yet somehow, the album feels perfectly timed for our current moment. Breathy saxophone characterizes many songs, weaving with its melodies a trail of confounding Summer of 2020 emotions.

The album begins with “Los Angeles,” grounding itself and the rest of the songs in breezy California nostalgia. Coming of age is so deeply tied to its setting — my East Coast upbringing and movies like Frances Ha cause me to associate that time with New York City, but “Los Angeles” paints the effortless California alternative, claiming that “New York is cold / I tried the winter there once, nope.” Upbeat instrumentals set the stage, but not just for a sentimental story of self-actualization. The plea of the chorus “On these days, these days, I can’t win / These days, I can’t see no visions,” is amplified. It tells the other side of the narrative, the long days between moving to a city and finally calling it ‘yours.’

Like many songs in the album, the lyrics hold a duality because of the American context they’ve been released into. Though songs hold a ‘coming of age and finding thyself’ ethos, they also presciently relate to the unrest of social isolation and frustrations in the fight for racial justice. The chorus continues “I’m breaking, losing faith / These days, these days.” As we continue wondering about the future of our lives and livelihoods, it’s refreshing — almost encouraging —  to have our challenges be acknowledged and know that our frustrations are not unique.

Released in late April, when quarantine became synonymous with our new way of life, the single “I Know Alone” starts “Been a couple days since I’ve been out.” In the accompanying music video, the three sisters wear matching pants and dusty-colored t-shirts. They form a triangle with their bodies as they sway and dance. “And I don’t wanna give, I don’t wanna give too much” is met with three synchronized head rotations, from side to side;  “I don’t wanna feel, I don’t wanna feel at all” echoes as three sets of fingers endlessly scroll on imaginary phones. As one Youtube commenter puts it, “this captures everything about [contemporary] loneliness.” Remotely directed and choreographed, the video is a telling product of our social distancing era.

HAIM paints broad concepts, like the fullness of femininity, in personal strokes allowing us to see the complexities through their stories. “3 AM” and “Don’t Wanna” deal with hanging onto not-so-great relationships — but not in a romanticized Ultraviolence way. “3 AM” begins with an audio clip of a booty call then floats through Danielle Haim’s vocals. A stream of consciousness narrating the scenario: “Now you’re calling / 3 AM, my head is spinning / Pushed off the sheets from my bed / ‘Cause the phone keeps ringing / All I keep thinking is, ‘Have I lost my mind?’ / But I’m picking up for the last time.” The easy flow brings us along, not just to watch the scenario unfold, but to see the interiority of her character build as we sympathize with the relatability of a conditional love (dependent on convenience, or maybe intoxication) and wanting to accept it, nonetheless.

In “Man From the Magazine,” Este addresses the blatant sexism that she and her sisters have faced in the industry. She asks “Man from the magazine what did you say? / ‘Do you make the same faces in bed?’” in reference to the same question a (male) interviewer once asked about her “bass face.” The second verse continues another thread “Man from the music shop, I drove too far / For you to hand me that starter guitar / ‘Hey girl, why don’t you play a few bars?’” These microaggressions, however painfully faced, are beautifully spun into a song that redirects The Man’s agency to Este, who sings that “I don’t want to hear / It is what it is, it was what it was / You don’t know how it feels, you expect me to deal with it / ‘Til I’m perfectly numb.”

For all the upbeat energy poured into icky situations and ickier men, the last bonus track “Summer Girl” contrasts with toned down instrumentals and a melancholy-tinged happiness. Danielle Haim wrote the song while touring in response to her partner’s cancer diagnosis, because “whenever [she] would come home in between shows [she] wanted to be his sunshine.” The bridge of the song offers a beautiful foray into unwavering love: “I need you to understand / These are the earthquake drills that we ran” and “The fears inside your heart as deep as gashes / Walk beside me / Not behind me.” The picture created is a diptych of soft femininity and sacrificial determination, of giving oneself over to be “your summer girl.” Despite being a bonus track, it’s the perfect ode to all the things that shape the album.

A week before WIMPIII was released, NPR’s Tiny Desk featured a home concert where HAIM performed “The Steps,” “I Know Alone” and “Summer Girl.” Having recorded their concert before the death of George Floyd, producer Cyrena Touros acknowledges: “The world has changed a lot in that time. With its opening line — ‘LA on my mind, I can’t breathe’ — “Summer Girl” becomes another piece of music that takes on a parallel meaning in the evolving social and political landscape of 2020.”

 

Cecilia Lu is a sophomore in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. She can be reached at zcl5@cornell.edu.