L.A. sister trio HAIM have seemingly been around so long, it’s hard to believe Days Are Gone is only their debut LP. That’s due to the band trickling out singles throughout the year that that have gotten better and better, all of which are included here. “Falling” moves on an echoing drum pulse and middle sister Danielle Haim’s husky, breathy vocals, falling somewhere between Christine McVie and Fiona Apple, and careful, creeping guitar riffs. “Forever” moves on an ’80s R&B shuffle, while the sisters’ back-and-forth vocal aerobics and harmonies employed Este, Danielle and Alana Haim showcase their greatest strength—the inborn chemistry fostered by playing in a band together since childhood. Their best song yet, “The Wire,” is bold enough to get called a Shania Twain knockoff by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow—they must be doing something right. Its Gary Glitter strut allows Danielle to really vamp and play the relieved ex-lover with glee, while youngest sister Alana steals the show with her swaggery second verse. The rest of Days Are Gone isn’t as strong as that dynamite opening, but even when the songs feel overstuffed, the sisters’ boundless energy makes the entire thing such an entertaining ride that you won’t mind the occasional whiplash. The details really make it worthwhile—the way the guitars pulse like they’re emulating synthesizers on “If I Could Change Your Mind,” the crazy, warped Miami Sound Machine-style vocals on the title track. We haven’t had a pop band like this in years, one with both the smarts and technical capability to call to mind classic pop acts from Fleetwood Mac through Destiny’s Child in one feel swoop. And Days Are Gone will no doubt make young women everywhere ask for guitars and pull their sisters into jam sessions. For that alone, we’re thankful for HAIM.
Oh hey! It's time for some top 50 album love.
1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Longtime devotees of Anthony Gonzalez’s M83 got to see him make good on the promises of his previous albums, all of which are great in their own way, on this unabated masterpiece. Across two albums’ worth of material, Gonzalez’s childlike ethos spreads across synth pop dreamscapes taken to arena-level sonic and emotional territory in a way that never feels trite or untrue. If he overreaches, he does it in the best way possible.
Chaz Bundick’s second album is a light-year’s jump over 2010’s chillwave capsule Causers of This, an album that seems to take a young lifetime’s worth of backseat radio listening and picks just the choicest bits, whether its early hip-hop or psychedelic rock or cool jazz, filtering it through Bundick’s too-cool specs.
PJ Harvey’s perfect instincts have guided her through the starkest of emotional territory with only the most necessary accompaniment. She continues that trend here, on an album reflecting on war and England’s history in a way that feels loose and not heavy-handed, aided by strangely fitting samples and tasteful effects, but still allowing for the emotional sucker punches she’s so adept at (“I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat” in “The Words That Maketh Murder” is one for the ages).
Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai is a master of minimalism. Over pitch-black surf riffs he plays and then samples, he breathes, whispers and cries tales of teenage longing inspired by ’50s rock ‘n’ roll (“Sweet 17,” “True Blue”), unearthing the dirt beneath the saccharine. At only eight tracks, two of them wordless, Badlands is the year’s most beguiling release.
Hip-hop that feels worlds removed from the realm of hip-hop, this forward-thinking album manages to stay fun while its psychedelic tones intimate something more cerebral and transcendent.
While Real Estate seemed primed to take the throne as leaders of the reverb pack with their self-titled debut in 2009, this glorious jangle-pop opus puts them more in line to grab the torch from the departing R.E.M.
Real noise punk from Danish teens that rocks so hard it puts just about every other band alive to shame in comparison.