The world needs mindless frivolity, and idiosyncratic displays of joyful intensity, and ad-revenue-generating internet slideshows. Este Haim’s fearsome arsenal of Rock Faces sates our desire for all three. Her weird form makes for fantastic content. Start typing her name into Google and autocomplete serves you up “bass face” first, before “height,” “age,” “Instagram,” or even “boyfriend.” From the moment Haim, the futuristic-throwback trio featuring Este and her sisters Danielle and Alana, first emerged as a pop phenomenon four years ago, coverage of Este’s various smirks and stink-eyes and grimaces has been voluminous. Here is the Ulysses of the genre. It’s been four years since their debut album! Too long. We missed them. We missed a lot about them. But the ridiculous faces most of all.
Thursday, after a brief prelude-to-the-prelude campaign of glamorous billboards and dope percussion tutorials, Haim finally served up a new song, “Right Now,” filmed live in the studio by [various overlapping fancy drum rolls] Paul Thomas Anderson. You call PTA when you wish to convey Extreme Seriousness. He picks up the phone when you’re worthy of it.
“Right Now” is, by live-in-the-studio necessity, skeletal and stern, its hooks evident but not quite yet razor-sharp and gleaming and monstrous. Este, on bass and drums, is the MVP, for her plaintive backing vocals and, yeah, her singularly evocative enthusiasm. (Picking a favorite Haim sister is a reductive but awfully satisfying party game.) The song arrived with a sophomore-album title and release date (Something to Tell You, out July 7), but it’s not the “first official single” — that’s apparently coming Wednesday. Sheesh. But “Right Now” tells us enough, and reminds us why we’ll gladly tolerate another one of these goofy piecemeal album rollouts. This is my most anticipated album of the summer, from one of the few young bands with enough guile and charisma to satisfy both halves of the art-pop equation, weird and delicate in a massive way, capable of making New Wave new again.
Haim’s first album, 2013’s Days Are Gone, was a Technicolor thunderclap, soft-rock triumphalism with a visceral edge, its physical grit suavely buffed and airbrushed and filtered. “Falling” in particular was a complex piece of salt-water taffy that didn’t seem possible to replicate live with fewer than 200 people wielding 600 keyboards, but the sisters picked up a drummer and managed, somehow. Haim’s attempts at genuine pop-radio hits, while not necessarily successful, were often fantastic. And their charm was monumental and easily weaponized, most notably by their immediately very close friend Taylor Swift at the height of her action-figure-collecting Glam Expendables phase. (Fun fact: Katy Perry might’ve gotten there first, though if so she definitely blew a 3–1 lead in this regard.) The band’s profile and festival-poster font size got remarkably big remarkably quickly, but with Este’s help especially, they retained a wild-eyed playfulness that kept it all from seeming too corporate or craven.
Musically, nothing Haim brought to the table was new, exactly, but they offered alluring new ways to look at various excellent old and not-so-old things. The album’s best and/or weirdest moments — the skronking “My Song 5,” for example — fused the ramshackle drum-bashing exuberance of indie deity Tune-Yards to the witchy hyper-balladry of actual deity Stevie Nicks. All of this has, in the four years since, a notable effect. Days Are Gone coproducer Ariel Rechtshaid has gone on to work with the likes of Beyoncé, Adele, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, and Carly Rae Jepsen, who took a similar Synth-Pop Coachella Queen approach, and whose attempts at genuine pop-radio hits were even more fantastic. (Though less successful.)
Something to Tell You, with Rechtshaid back in the mix, will thus enter a crowded field of summer 2017 attempts to recreate Reagan-era moonwalking grandeur. Keytar sales through the roof and so forth. Pop-punk deities Paramore are back in May with an awfully familiar electric-pastel throwback sound, and Thursday also brought word that French synth-pop aesthetes Phoenix have a new album out in June. Both those records will likely be blissfully summery and extremely rad. But Haim’s has got the best shot at being both the biggest and the weirdest. That’s another aspect of the ’80s worth aspiring to.
The news Wednesday that Jonathan Demme had died at 73 sent many of his mourners, myself included, all the way back to Stop Making Sense. Talking Heads were the artiest pop stars of their era, not to mention the poppiest art-school weirdos of their era. Frontman David Byrne in particular has a way of peeling away the layers of rock-star myth but leaving the whole intact. From Haim’s earlier, gnarlier demos forward, you got the sense that given enough time and space, they could flaunt a similar range — a strange and captivating ability to fill tiny subterranean clubs with pleasantly jarring noise but also, potentially, fill stadiums with raucously massive anthems.
The ideal sound for Something to Tell You would be both huger and wilder, an attempt to hit the big time and slip into the Big Suit all in one memeable motion. Haim are profoundly unlikely to ever reach either peak, of course, but they’re the rare modern band with enough versatility and a high-enough profile to try. The ideal music for summer 2017 is outlandish in scope but intimate in execution, inviting you to examine the seams before they gloriously burst. As our first impression of the record, this version of “Right Now,” though glossy and prestige-directed, still has a nervy rawness to it. It shows us how potentially transcendent art-pop often begins, and suggests where, very occasionally, it can end up.