The three sisters from the Valley confront depression and isolation, channeling chaos into candor
HAIM, the sister trio whose burnished pop tracks resurrected warm memories of Fleetwood Mac, recently released a third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III. This new offering is unvarnished and unapologetically honest, with influences ranging from classical jazz to Joni Mitchell and lyrics that pierce the current haze of mass confusion and cognitive dissonance with raw candor. From what we can glean, the HAIM sisters are feeling just as trapped indoors as we are. “I’ve been watching too much TV/Looking up at the ceiling/It’s been making me feel creepy/I’m just trying to shake this feeling,” they sing in the ‘70s folk-inflected “I’ve Been Down.”
The rawness of Women in Music Pt. III (what could be more plainspoken—three women in music?) guides HAIM to a place of aggressive transparency and introspection. Although they can still walk on LA’s light side in songs like “Summer Girl,” they’ve opted for a more frank approach to the blues they’ve been living. In this “Los Angeles,” the jazz-inflected first track of the album, mellow is hard to come by: “These days, I can’t see no visions/I’m breaking, losing faith.” Danielle Haim, the middle sister, has been open about the backdrop of depression—a backdrop that included her partner’s cancer diagnosis—that informs a number of the songs on the album, particularly tracks like “Gasoline” (“I get sad, you know I get sad/And I can’t look past what I’m sad about”). Songs like “I Know Alone” and “I’ve Been Down” aren’t just markers of individual sorrow but, in light of the COVID world we’re living in, are also anthems to our isolation: “Cause night turns into days/that turn to grey/keep turning over/some things never grow/I know alone like no one else does.”
For all that’s new here, the HAIM sisters have stayed true to their roots: they’re still three Jewish girls from the Valley. Musical digressions build upon their foundations, rather than overwrite them; they’re elaborating on an already vibrant canvas (the album artwork is a photograph of them posed at the counter of Canter’s Deli on Fairfax, the site of their very first public performance 20 years ago).
Regression and nostalgia have been two recurring themes throughout the COVID crisis; the state of the world is unresolved, so we anchor ourselves with memories of our lived experiences. These memories aren’t necessarily positive, but they’re definitive, and that’s what we’re craving in times of chaos. A similar sense of longing permeates Phoebe Bridgers’ newest release Punisher, which sees the artist navigate childhood images of fairytale houses and a desire to go home. “If I go outside/I’ll see a tractor beam,” Bridgers sings. “Coming to take me to where I’m from/I want to go home.”
It’s difficult to conjure a future in the midst of such a grim present. Is it any surprise that the #1 album in America right now is Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways? It’s not just the younger artists who, rather than fleeing from isolation, are turning to art, imagination, and self-discovery to understand it.
No one is brimming with happiness in 2020. COVID-19 has confined us physically, whether in our cramped apartments or in our childhood homes. Tempting as it is, we can’t unplug and clear our heads. We must be willing to confront the truth and the ugliness of this moment in history and our place in it, willing to make ourselves more vulnerable in ways that are scary, productive, and cathartic. All change begins with a glance in the mirror. The core of Women in Music Pt. III is a recognition of the suffering and loss that accompany adulthood; HAIM confronts a world far more complicated and dark than what the women of (non-existent) “Women in Music Pt. I and II” would express.
One of these days, we’ll be able to stop alternating between the same two pairs of dirty sweatpants. One of these mornings, we will no longer have to stay inside to protect ourselves. We’ll “wake up on the other side” and go have a drink at the Kibitz Room at Canter’s. We will ruminate in our discomfort and admit to the fact that we’re living, as the Strokes said, in “the new abnormal.” Then we’ll decide what we can do about it. It’s the only way forward.