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Haim’s World Is Still Sunny, but They’re Done Being Polite

The sisters’ excellent third album, ‘Women in Music Pt. III,’ radiates brightness and is packed with sharp edges

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The song is called “Man From the Magazine,” and any dude who’s ever interviewed the Los Angeles pop trio Haim instinctively winces, and it turns out the feeling is mutual.

Man from the magazine, what did you say?
“Do you make the same faces in bed?”
Hey, man, what kind of question is that?
What did you really want me to say back?

Yeesh. This tactless Q was once directed to Este, the eldest Haim sister, whose panoply of intense Bass Faces was a reliable source of amusing internet content back in 2013. That was the year she and her fellow multi-instrumentalist sisters Danielle and Alana put out their radiant debut album, Days Are Gone, which helped make several medium-cool things (L.A., soft rock, sibling ESP, ’80s bubbliness filtered through 2010s steeliness, music videos) extremely cool again.

What’s going on behind those dark glasses?
Is this what you think making a pass is?
Wondering which door could get me out fastest

Danielle, the middle sister and lead singer, delivers this cringey tale over percussive acoustic guitar, which, alongside the razor-sharp weariness, recalls Joni Mitchell: the melodiously tumbling syllables, the wry fury, the lethal swagger that animates the word bed alone. (That is, of course, a very Man From the Magazine comparison to make.) But when she ends the chorus with a deep, quavering, arrestingly grave repetition of the line, “You don’t know how it feels,” you feel it profoundly, whether you know the feeling or not. The second verse is about being a woman in a guitar shop, and that doesn’t feel so hot, either.

“My defense mechanism when stuff like that happens is to try to make a joke out of it,” Este recently told Apple Music. So she did; she was trying to be polite. But that was then. “Now,” she continued, “had someone said that to me, I probably would’ve punched them in the face.”

The song appears late on Haim’s nervy third full-length, Women in Music Pt. III, which came out Friday, and whose title, to the band’s delight, telescopes splendidly down to the acronym WIMPIII. It’s not a punch in the face, exactly, and the band is still cracking plenty of jokes: On the stern deli-counter album cover, for example, our hosts are surrounded by sausages and currently serving no. 69. But there’s a sharpened ferociousness to these breezy festival-headliner jams even at their breeziest, the topics ranging from sexism to sickness to romantic dissolution to paralyzing grief. The band’s infectious lightness only heightens this album’s encroaching darkness.

This applies to the love songs, even: “It takes all that I’ve got not to fuck this up,” Danielle concedes amid the gentle acoustic romanticism of “Leaning on You.” “So won’t you let me know if I’m not alone?” A buoyant single like “The Steps”—the slick guitar riff, the boisterous drums, the sunny vocal harmonies—connects this record seamlessly to Days Are Gone and 2017’s Something to Tell You, a perfectly fine follow-up that maybe took a little too long to do something a little too similar. But the jolt of the chorus is unmistakable, and all the more so for how cheerfully it’s delivered:

And every day I wake up and I make money for myself
And though we share a bed, you know that I don’t need your help
Do you understand?
You don’t understand me, baby

Indeed, one of the most romantic-feeling songs, a power ballad called “FUBT,” is, per Alana, “about being in an emotionally abusive relationship,” with a song title that telescopes brutally back up to “Fucked Up But True.” Haim’s fundamental golden hour radiance is undiminished on WIMPIII, but sharper edges and harder feelings jut out everywhere.

One by-product of the ongoing Death of Rock is that it implies the also-ongoing Death of the Rock Band, and all the fascinating chemistry and volatility and severe interpersonal rivalry that being in a rock band implies. Even Almost Famous, a movie nakedly powered by vanishing volatile-rock-band nostalgia, is itself now 20 years old. But Danielle, Este, and Alana were a thrilling burst of pure oxygen from the jump, overloaded with personality and effervescent camaraderie: Not many artists of their era nailed their Saturday Night Live debuts, but Haim sure did.

Their videos, in particular—many of them directed by Hollywood big-shot and Ringer deity Paul Thomas Anderson—have an effortless iconic quality to them even when the video concept is the Haim sisters walking. Dig Monday’s Jake Schreier–directed clip for the sultry and aggrieved “Don’t Wanna,” a parking-lot race (about as close as this band gets to public rivalry of any sort) that is itself an informal sequel to the epic Ventura Boulevard stroll the band set to Something to Tell You lead single “Want You Back.” The top YouTube comment on the “Don’t Wanna” video at press time is “the fact that they literally invented walking.”

What makes WIMPIII so striking, along with its hints of aggression and exasperation—the chorus to “I’ve Been Down” is basically just the title, and like primo Tom Petty comes on like a lament that doubles as a defiant sneer—is that you can hear the band’s rapport even more clearly in the music itself. Produced by Danielle alongside festival-rock mainstays Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij, there’s a patchwork looseness to it, the drums and drum machines clattering, the funk-adjacent guitars and swooning keyboards and startling harmonies interlocking sublimely but not quite smoothly. “Gasoline” is a magnificent pop sunburst of a tune, but there’s a raw and skeletal quality to it, and a combativeness even to the amorousness. Second verse:

I get sad
You know I get sad
And I can’t look past what I’m sad about
You did me bad
And I did it back
You needed ass, well
What’s wrong with that?

The occasional saxophone burst—recalling Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” on “Summer Girl,” and the reggae bounce of Toots and the Maytals on the album-opening love letter “Los Angeles”—adds a haunted sort of depth, not too comfortable, not too slick. What Haim specialize in, now as then, is an uncomplicated good time, an easy hang, an instrument-swapping looseness that makes even their COVID-impaired promo activities, including a brief set in that same deli, feel both hypercasual and momentous. It is tremendous fun to vicariously hang out with these people, given how much they still clearly enjoy hanging out with each other.

But they’ve found ways to very subtly complicate that good time, to make even the bubble-funk ode to booty calls (“3 A.M.”) radiate with low-level anxiety, to say nothing of the songs about much higher-grade romantic anxiety. “Now I’m in It” is an upbeat workout tune that’s even more exhausting emotionally; in the video, Alana and Este cheer their sister up by sending her through a car wash. Because what keeps Haim going—and thwarting all the music-shop dorks and interviewer dolts and all the usual challenges of topping your last album without merely rerecording it—is their bond with each other. “Hallelujah” is an acoustic ballad so earnest it could be a country song: Each member of the band takes a verse, and confronts some personal demon, and thanks her sisters for helping confront it. As Este sings:

Laughing together like our thoughts are harmonized
Been that way since ’95
Give me direction when it is hard to fight
Three roads, one light

Paul Thomas Anderson directed the video. Haim get just a little bit of walking in. You once again get a greater sense of their struggle, internal and external, than they’ve offered in the past. But most importantly, you walk away secure in the knowledge that they’ll overcome it, whatever it is, whether they’re polite about it or not.