Days Are Gone

Haim

Polydor, 2013

http://www.haimtheband.com

REVIEW BY: Gus Rocha

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/17/2021

By the fall of 2013, Los Angeles-based trio Haim was already one of the most talked-about bands in the music scene. The San Fernando Valley group, made up of sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim, had released their first EP Forever in February of the previous year, and in the interim, had managed to rack up a remarkable resume. After receiving numerous accolades from both tastemakers and members of the press, the group earned a slot at the SXSW music festival in Austin in the spring of 2012, where following a string of crowd-wowing performances, they were signed by London-based label Polydor Records. 

Over the next year, the band spent much of their time on tour, opening up for headliners such as Mumford And Sons and Florence And The Machine. In that time, they landed a management contract with Roc Nation while making their first appearance at Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom. They also returned for a second appearance at SXSW and released a remix of their EP’s title track mixed and mastered by legendary Swedish musician and producer Dan Lissvik. More importantly, they recorded their full-length debut, Days Are Gone, released by Polydor on September 27th, 2013. 

Recorded in collaboration with noted producer and engineer Ariel Rechtshaid, whose credits include work with artists like Madonna, Beyonce, and Usher, Days Are Gone debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 charts; it entered the UK Albums Chart at #1. Critical reception was mostly positive, with critics complimenting the group’s seemingly seamless synthesis of sweet and breezy ’70s power-chord-forward pop rock and the rhythmic grooves and stylings of early ’90s R&B. Comparisons were made immediately to bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Bangles, and En Vogue, while writers like Chris Deville of Stereogum saw the album as a salient example of a millennial-specific cross-pollination of genres whose byproduct was a bland, homogenous ready-made he dubbed the monogenre. 

That the press would, on one side, laud what it took as a commendable example of synergy vis-a-vis the creative process, then liken the end-result to the toothless bite of a defanged corporate-friendly monster is a bit ironic. It’s also misguided and only partly true. The fact is that much of what was written about Days Are Gone as an album, or Haim as a group, is right up until the point that it isn’t. The sound reflects its creators’ omnivorous musical diet as much as it distills those influences down into a potent elixir marked by a distinctly personal brand and flavor. There’s a profundity to the album belied by its glossy and peppy pop rock veneer. 

At heart, Days Are Gone should be heard as a chronicle, a longitudinal study of someone’s struggles and experiences with many of life’s vexing and most troublingly existential quandaries: heartache, self-doubt, angst, and the temptation to surrender to one’s darkest and basest fears. There are rousing moments of bravery and determination, but these usually occur in the face of dark spells of delirious incredulity. As is often the case in the creepily surreal world of director David Lynch, light accentuates rather than offsets darkness. One day’s valiant triumph over crippling insecurity is a gasp of air while sinking further into quicksand. And a particular feeling is expressed repeatedly throughout the album: that the present is not large enough to fit the surfeit of pain and shattered illusions one carries over from past moments or relationships. The future is ideal only because it’s inevitable; if the choice were available, one would certainly choose the past. 

Consider these words taken from the upbeat alt-rocker “Don’t Save Me”: my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Take me back to the song, how'd it used to go?
Screaming for what was to come,
Now I'm dreaming back the way I was.”

Over boppy, uptempo bass and guitars, lead singer Danielle Haim takes stock of what’s left over from a floundering relationship so inherently unequal that by its end, she’s left awash and helpless in the swirling tide of dissolution and change. In that sense, the concept of time and our relation to it plays a significant role in the album. Progress might feel linear, but this logic is as much the result of an illusion as the notion that one might ever step forward into a real moment of inner calm and stability. 

This part-escapist, part-nostalgic animus is revisited throughout the album; each operant variation dependent on Haim’s relatably aleatory cycles. There are moments of learned helplessness that climax in cries for compassion as they underscore a deep-seated sense of resignation. We see this in the polyrhythmic hard-rocker “Let Me Go,” where we observe Danielle Haim pleading at the end of a rope as a hard-stomping, crescendoing set of sharp twangy guitars and bombastic percussion raise the emotional stakes: 

“Let me out
Let me in
I've given up
Not given in
'Cause together we are not one
We are nothing but holding on and on.”

There are instances of regret and self-flagellant shame where we both feel and connect with the singer’s feeling of impotence and their desire for the chance to go back in time to set things right, as is the case in the dark, soulful R&B number “Go Slow:” 

“Well, was it something that I said?
(I know that it was something I said)
From your heat now
Going crazy trying hard to forget
(You know I’m trying hard to forget).”

The toxic and resulting combination of damaged self-esteem and self-loathing does not, however, prevent Danielle Haim from holding her former paramour responsible for her current state: 

“I just want to go back to the way that I was
Cause you took away all my young life
And I hate who I’ve become from your heat.”

This break from subservient helplessness brings with it spells of confidence and self-assurance as heard in the funky and jangly “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”-influenced “Forever:” 

“Go, go, get out, get out of my memory
No, no, not tonight, I don’t have the energy.”

Moments of indifference to one’s actions appear in the country-rock break-up-song sendup “The Wire,” where younger sister Alana passingly remarks that:

 “I’m sorry that I did what I did, but it came naturally.”  

And then, moments shaped by the gritty determination to move on without forgetting the emotional cost of giving oneself so openly and wantonly to someone unwilling to reciprocate. No song stands as a better example of the manic resolution to part ways to forge a path forward than the dance-floor-ready, Laura Branigan-inspired title track co-written with fellow post-disco-groove pupil Jessie Ware: 

“You can have my past, I’ll never get that back
I’m moving on, ‘cause those days are gone
Felt like I was walking on a tightrope
Those days are gone, those days are gone
Sometimes I wish I didn’t miss you at all
And now I’m waiting for the day to dawn
Those days are gone.”

There is a measure of spiritual strength derived from the intimate understanding of the past that feels like a reckoning with all that no longer remains. That this is expressed through a tasteful, engaging, fresh, and optimistic recycling of vintage pop idioms is beyond commendable, reflecting a generational penchant for rummaging through and revisiting the past. This approach has less to do with appropriating past values than highlighting the need for organic and lasting artifacts with which to slow down the perceived obsolescence of a culture, whose once-glossy and sensuous wrappings have, for a long time, been peeling away at the corners. 

Neither a pastiche nor mold-breaking, Days Are Gone, like other albums of its time, remains an apt example of what’s possible when we take the time to reflect on a process as it comes to an end. It highlights the break from the asphyxiating anxiety that washes over us when our present condition looks pale and laughable compared to our lost potential. And it reminds us of the reassuring truth that, though at times necessary, looking back should never stand in as a substitute for moving forward.

Rating: B+

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