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HAIM Radiates Sunniness In 'Women In Music Pt. III'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The rock trio Haim played its first concert 20 years ago among the salamis in Canter's Deli in their hometown of Los Angeles. In 2020, Haim would have headlined Madison Square Garden were it not for the coronavirus. Now the three Haim sisters have released their third album "Women In Music Pt. III," and it includes songs about depression, loneliness and dealing with condescending journalists. Rock critic Ken Tucker has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T WANNA")

HAIM: (Singing) Ooh, you did me so bad. When I was in the moment, well, I didn't understand. Ooh, yeah, you did me so harsh, left me low with my high heels in the parking lot. Always thought I'd see it coming, but I don't. Got to leave the engine running, in the front seat, in my mama's winter coat. I don't want to give up on you. I don't want to, don't want to, I don't want to have to. Well, we both had nights waking up in strangers' beds, but I don't want to, don't want to, I don't want to give up yet.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Haim's "Women In Music Pt. III" features songs that radiate a sunniness so strong you'll think your ears are burning. Or maybe they're burning because you think Haim is talking about you. Take, for example, a great song like the one I'm about to play, called "The Steps." It gets at the way you sometimes wish the person you love would understand you better, which leads you to wonder how much you really understand or love that person.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STEPS")

HAIM: (Singing) So, baby, when I'm near you, you can't feel me. I'm lightning. You used to come by and sit down on my side. You would come in close and take off all my clothes. Every time I think that I've been taking the steps, you end up mad at me for making a mess. I can't understand why you don't understand me, baby. And every day I wake up and 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.

TUCKER: "The Steps" has a guitar sound and a mood that reminds me of Fleetwood Mac around the time of "Tusk," one of the greatest LA albums. The Haim sisters, Danielle, Este and Alana, are creatures of Los Angeles, creating songs meant to be blasted loud in your car as you try to time all the green lights along Sunset Boulevard. It's no surprise, therefore, that they include a new song called "Los Angeles" or that at various times, their sound evokes such LA-rooted musicians as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Linda Ronstadt and The Bangles.

There's a sharp, cutting song about a sexist dude interviewing the band called "Man From The Magazine." It's yet another example of HAIM's Laurel Canyon pop with what amounts to a Joni Mitchell impersonation in the vocal and a guitar riff straight off Joni's album "Blue."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAN FROM THE MAGAZINE")

HAIM: (Singing) 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? 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. When I tell it now, I don't want to hear it is what it is, it was what it was. I don't want to hear it is what it is, it was what it was. You don't know how it feels. You expect me to deal with it till I'm perfectly numb. But you don't know how it feels.

TUCKER: The sonic range on display here is both impressive and intriguing. I'll give you two contrasting examples. On "All That Ever Mattered," the band goes intentionally crazy, distorting the vocals, replacing the naturalistic drum sound with programmed beats and offering a squawking guitar solo that made me think of yet another Angeleno, Frank Zappa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THAT EVER MATTERED")

HAIM: (Singing) So what is it like now that you don't have me? So what is it like? Never mind. Don't tell me. Do you think about all the things I did to you? Do you think about how to get me back when you remember that? To me, all that ever mattered was you, baby. All that ever mattered was you, baby. And I guess you never knew all that ever mattered was you, baby.

TUCKER: In contrast to that, here is "I've Been Down," which sounds like an electrified piece of folk music. It has a simple and great melodic hook and a terrific drum sound from Danielle - spongy and sticky, yet propulsive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN DOWN")

HAIM: (Singing) I've been running around town, feeling up and down. Taped up the windows at the house, but I ain't dead yet. Would you even pick me out in the crowd? 'Cause I can't recognize myself now, and I'm turning away help. Can you pull me out? I've been down. I've been down. You say there's no stupid questions...

TUCKER: There's a couplet in "The Steps" that compresses all the tension HAIM creates in the best music on this album. The lines are, do you understand? You don't understand me, baby. As the speaker, heartbroken, answers her own question, it's the dark emotional space between those two lines that all the sunny music on this album has been created to illuminate

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed the new album from the trio HAIM called "Women In Music Pt. III."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Michaela Coel, the creator, writer, director and star of the HBO series "I May Destroy You." She plays a young writer famous on social media who's sexually assaulted, but she has no idea what happened because her drink was spiked. The story comes out of Coel's own experience of sexual assault. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW I'M IN IT")

HAIM: (Singing) Looking in the mirror again and again...

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW I'M IN IT")

HAIM: (Singing) We cannot be friends, cannot pretend that it makes sense. 'Cause now I'm in it. But I've been trying to find my way back for a minute. Damn, I'm in it. And I've been trying to... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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