Over the years Haim have developed a signature; their precise, taut pop songs glimmer with punch and polish. Built on minimal frames – crisp bass-lines, tight group harmonies and the odd celebratory ‘Ha!’ – the Los Angeles sisters’ sound is sharp, distinguishable, and tricky to imitate (though many do try). How many times, in the last couple of years, has a mediocre song from another artist felt a little bit too Haim-y? That their band name has turned into an adjective says it all.
On their latest, however, the Los Angeles siblings step away in a looser, more playful direction. A lazily picked bassline scuffs idly along the paths of ‘Summer Girl’ in a manner that suggests it might be about to take a ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ a la Lou Reed. Drums keep time with a lackadaisical groove, and a gutsy saxophone hook eventually breaks free from its moorings, floating upward into an improvised solo.
‘Summer Girl’ was written around the same time that Danielle Haim’s partner was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago: the main refrain stemmed from her attempts to dig out a space for joy. “I wanted to be his hope when he was feeling hopeless,” she wrote on the band’s Instagram, “so I kept singing these lines.” That same tension between fear and fervour yanks on the strings of ‘Summer Girl’. “You’re there when I close my eyes, so hard to reach,” Danielle sings, “The smiles turn into cries, it’s the same release.” Amid the warmth, there are teardrops hidden behind tinted sunglasses, and angels descending urgently “like a wave that’s crashing on the ground”.
As with the unsettled, fidgety ‘Right Now’ – one of the more experimental outliers from ‘Something To Tell You’ – this is treading different ground for Haim. Having more or less mastered pop precision, a little wonkiness suits them well.