Perhaps Haim wanted to be sure we’d really listen this time. Over the course of two records, the three Haim sisters — Danielle, Este, and Alana — have mainly been written about as a unit. They can harmonize, they look born to wander the streets of Los Angeles in style, and their work has consistently drawn favorable comparisons to Fleetwood Mac. Compliments all, but a woefully incomplete summary as well.
After those two acclaimed albums, Haim’s latest in some ways feels like a rejection of the image they’ve thus far been cast in. They’re not mad to be friends with Stevie Nicks, but that’s not the story they’re trying to tell. It’s clear from the first notes of “Women in Music Pt. III” that things are going to be a little different this time around.
Like gridlock traffic, a bellow of horns kicks off opener “Los Angeles,” in which Danielle admits that though she gave New York a try, it will always be L.A. for her. From the get-go, an expanded sonic palette is revealed, one in which facets of funk, hip-hop and more are offered a seat at Haim’s table. The ensuing feast represents Haim’s strongest and most revealing record yet.
While Vampire Weekend stalwarts Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid also helmed productions duties for Haim’s last record, 2017’s “Something to Tell You,” there’s an enhanced willingness to jump genres and energies from all of the parties involved this time around. From the overt reggae vibes on the booty call shutdown “3 AM” to a veritable orchestra of new sounds and instrumentation, there is more going on in “Women in Music Pt. III” than anything Haim has attempted before.
In promoting the album, the sisters have each acknowledged individual trauma that guided their creative process. For Danielle, it was depression. Youngest sister Alana was grieving the unexpected death of a best friend. In Este’s case, an ongoing battle with Type 1 diabetes proved charged fodder. The gorgeous folk ballad “Hallelujah” addresses these pains in traded choruses.
Danielle sounds triumphant on “I’ve Been Down,” which rides an acoustic strum as she wonders: “Would you even pick me out in the crowd? / Cause I can’t recognize myself now / And I’m turning away help / Can you pull me out?”
The juxtaposition of a snappy percussive line befitting a Sheryl Crow stomper with the middle Haim sister’s honest recollections of a rough time is powerful. Through it all, Alana and Este’s harmonies are there whenever she needs them, seemingly answering the question “can you help me out?” by asking with three voices instead of one.
Triumph turns to seething disdain on “Man from the Magazine,” where the sisters channel Joni Mitchell as they spotlight sexist interview questions they’ve been forced to endure. “Do you make the same faces in bed,” Este recalls. “Hey man what kind of question is that? What do you really want me to say back?” Later, the synths of “I Know Alone” give rise to an overt Joni reference when Danielle name-checks “Both Sides Now.” Elsewhere, the more familiar ’70s AM territory that Haim first flourished with returns on tracks like “Don’t Wanna” and “Now I’m In It.” Both are enjoyable but feel arguably the least specific to this record.
Regardless, these moments of familiarity only heighten the payoff of a surprise like the reggae tone that bubbles over “Another Try” or the glam guitar solo that caps off “All That Ever Mattered.” Instrumentally, “Women in Music Pt. III” finds the Haim sisters showcasing new facets of their craft to great effect. Far from spurning the Laurel Canyon blood that still flows through the band’s veins, the divergences here are a complement to their well-documented roots.
Bassist Este shows her versatility, most notably with “Now I’m In It,” which features a line that reverberates with glitchy gusto. Not exactly the land of Stevie Nicks. Elsewhere, Alana’s guitar work continues to grow more confident and versatile as well. Featuring a credited interpolation of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” album closer “Summer Girl” (originally released as a single back in July 2019) is a spiritual New York bookend to its SoCal-linked first track.
As Alana’s fretwork traces over Reed’s well-worn grooves, the work of “Women in Music Pt. III” feels complete. Tongue-in-cheek though the title may be, the sisters of Haim continue to balance traditional excellence with a fearless appreciation for breaking their own mold. It wasn’t that Haim was in any need of a change, but now that it’s arrived, there’ll likely be no going back.