Haim specialize in pinpointing a specific place along a continuum of distance. Though their songs are often big, snappy, extraverted affairs, the L.A. sister trio has a way of capturing the small moments that accumulate while closing the space with another person, or else watching as that person gradually slips away. Their 2013 debut Days Are Gone, easily one of the best and most consistent records of that year, was particularly adept at packaging its tales of heartache, longing, and growth in a contagiously fun amalgam of power pop, R&B, and rock.
Now, the Haim sisters find themselves in the unenviable position of having to follow up such an impressive debut. After four years in gestation, expectations have been inevitably high for Something to Tell You, and like many a sophomore LP before it, the album may have difficulty emerging from the shadow of its predecessor. The self-consciousness inherent in such a situation, while mostly minimized here, occasionally becomes evident and drags the record down. Certainly these songs remain as tightly constructed, propulsive, and personally relatable as ever, and it’s hard to deny the talent the band has for hooks and intricate songwriting. At times, though, the record has difficulty coming alive.
Part of what made Days Are Gone so incisive was the theme, expressed right there in the album title and its associated track, of life transitions and irrevocable change. Combined with all the romantic angst, it added a certain bitterness and scope to their work that lent it a sense of urgency. Something to Tell You has more of an established and secure feel to it, as might be expected. Without the shifting, liminal dynamic of its predecessor, however, the stakes just don’t feel quite as high here.
Haim supply energy in abundance, of course, and the tightly wound stomp of lead single “Want You Back” comes close to previous heights like “Forever”. “Nothing’s Wrong” and “Little of Your Love”, meanwhile, find the sisters sounding like convincing heiresses to Shania Twain’s throne of crossover country-pop. The record is full of finely calibrated hooks and riffs, though at times it becomes saturated and over-packed. It can feel as though the trio is trying to breathe life into these songs through sheer will and determination alone, even if something seems to be missing deeper down.
The record starts to open up more toward its second half, especially as Haim allow themselves to slow down. “You Never Knew” is a refreshing change of pace, evident from the very first beats of its tropical percussion embellishments. There’s something liberating about the track, which spaciously accommodates warm sunshowers of acoustic guitar; distant, breathy backing vocals; and as infectious of a chorus as you’ll find on the whole album. The elliptical R&B of “Walking Away”, featuring a maze of multi-tracked vocals, is also a clear highlight. These moments allow the trio to explore or further refine their musical territory. While largely continuous with Days Are Gone in terms of genre and sound, Haim certainly play with new ideas on Something to Tell You, even if other moments, like the orchestral pop of “Found It in Silence”, don’t stick quite as well.
When a live studio version of “Right Now” emerged as the first taste of the album, I had assumed this would be its resident “raw” song, occupying the same space on the track list as Days Are Gone‘s “Let Me Go”. While “Right Now” is certainly a brooding, simmering number, the song is immediately outdone in this category by the stripped-down finale, “Night So Long”. With dark guitar strumming that wouldn’t sound out of place on Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s I See a Darkness, “Night So Long” is a near-harrowing account of isolation and sadness. “In loneliness my only friend / In loneliness my only fear…I say goodbye to love once more / No shadow darkening my door”, Danielle Haim sings despairingly, though the song gradually coheres toward redemption as it progresses. Between this track and their previous record’s “Running If You Call My Name”, Haim’s most underrated talent may well be penning honest, emotionally searing album closers.
Indeed, “Night So Long” feels by far the realest, most honest number on an album that occasionally grows cloudy and opaque. At many of its poppiest moments, the core of Something to Tell You can be obscured in its crowded tapestry of hooks, licks, and rapid fire refrains. It shines best when Haim step back, relax, and allow the songs to expand into their own idiosyncratic shapes.