Haim breaks stylish new ground with dazzling ‘Women in Music Pt. III’

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

In one of the most anticipated album releases of the year, Los Angeles pop rock band Haim debuted its third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III, June 26. Through its stylish examination of adulthood, desire and loss, WIMPIII aims for new heights and succeeds eminently. 

In WIMPIII, Haim — consisting of sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim — deftly maneuvers from one genre to another as it explores its influences and covers new stylistic terrain. Yet, even as the album morphs from song to song, WIMPIII never loses the qualities that make Haim’s sound unique. 

At its core, WIMPIII is still quintessentially Haim, but many of the tracks feature the Haim sisters’ instrumental talents more prominently than their previous work has done. While their first two albums were predominantly pop-driven with some rock underpinnings, the sweet electric guitar progressions and lively bass lines on songs such as “Los Angeles” and “The Steps” evoke images of concerts on the beach more so than a night out.

On the tracks “Leaning on You,” “Man from the Magazine” and “Hallelujah,” Haim completely abandons its dancier pop stylings to deliver three almost completely acoustic songs, which feature the band’s seamless vocal synchronization and tenacious lyricism. Though echoes of Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell have always been audible in Haim’s music, these tracks feel more directly connected to the band’s influences than any of its previous work. As a result, the songs feel familiar, but they maintain an electricity that makes them refreshing nonetheless.

Another clear influence on WIMPIII is that of Haim’s frequent collaborator Vampire Weekend, whose former member Rostam Batmanglij co-produced the album and co-wrote most of the songs with the Haim sisters. The guitar stylings of Danielle and Alana Haim on “Los Angeles” and “Another Try” reflect the dreamy, choral tones that characterize much of Vampire Weekend’s early work, but in the context of Haim’s vocals, the sound evolves into something entirely new.

Even the songs that are most reminiscent of Haim’s earlier work take on new aesthetics. “All That Ever Mattered” sounds typical for most of the song, until the electric guitar roars awake and takes the spotlight for a 60-second solo that closes out the song. While instrumentals previously played supporting roles in many of Haim’s songs, on WIMPIII, they’re the star of the show more often than not. 

Thematically, WIMPIII aims high and hits the mark. On the hypnotic “I Know Alone,” the band delivers a succinct summary of one of the album’s theses: Though comforting, the notion that “some things never change” also means that “some things never grow.” This tension is reflected in the explicit reference to Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” a song that perfectly encapsulates Haim’s message that growing older doesn’t always mean getting wiser. 

WIMPIII also navigates the bittersweet dynamics of romantic relationships, from the difficulty of fully understanding one’s partner to the beauty and tension of attraction. While “The Steps” describes the frustration of not being truly seen by a significant other, as well as the freedom that can result from ending a painful relationship, “Don’t Wanna” offers a response that speaks to the value of pushing through rough patches to reach harmony on the other side. Within this conversation, though, “3 AM” and “Gasoline” interject with two fiery illustrations of desire that slow down and ground the album.

Though successful overall, the album is not without its low points, such as the superfluous “Another Try,” which feels like a rough draft of the preceding “Don’t Wanna.” Still, the few valleys in the album are always followed by ascendant peaks that make it a rewarding listen. Its tightly-woven tapestry of vocal harmony, diverse array of instrumental backgrounds and piercing lyrics linger in listeners’ ears long after the album ends. It’s Haim’s most ambitious — and its strongest — venture yet.

Contact Matthew DuMont at [email protected].