For all of their critical and commercial success thus far in their young career, HAIM are perhaps the prime candidates for falling prey to the sophomore slump. With a snowball effect of journalist hype leading up to the release of their well-received debut album, Days Are Gone, the trio of sisters seemingly struck a balance amongst both critics and the general public, retaining the allure of an independent band to have risen up from the underground, whilst nevertheless playing towards the territory of a mainstream audience with a sweet pop rock sound. However, whereas artists in this position typically have the philosophy of “strike while the iron is hot”, HAIM have taken their time coming through with their hotly anticipated second record, with Something To Tell You landing nearly four years after its predecessor. Four years can feel like a lifetime in the world of popular music, and it can certainly see the initial excitement behind an artist fizzle out, which is wherein groups like HAIM are often met with a dilemma; churn out a potentially mediocre or underwhelming album whilst levels of enthusiasm are still high, or take the time to craft a more polished record, thus running the risk of having lost the interest of the mainstream public. Hence, the sophomore slump is very real. In the case of HAIM, although the anticipation that came with the girls signing to Polydor Records and forming a management deal with JAY-Z’s Roc Nation may no longer be present, a batch of successful singles and a release date that puts Something To Tell You as a major contender for the indie teen summer album have rekindled much of the initial hype to have seen Days Are Gone to such great success. Whether or not the trio’s second record overcomes the sophomore slump, however, is another question and, as someone who personally found myself underwhelmed with the songwriting and overall style of the group outside of certain singles at the time of their initial outbreak, Something To Tell You does little, if anything, to sway a sceptic of their work. Instead, as was the case with Days Are Gone, HAIM’S latest full-length album comes across as being almost entirely structured around its singles and, with these being placed towards the beginning of the tracklisting, Something To Tell You also feels significantly front-loaded. Ultimately, with an album so plainly middle-of-the-road, it only makes sense that the results it yields would ultimately be rather middling.
Oddly enough, Something To Tell You actually feels significantly more cohesive, or at least more consistent, than Days Are Gone, despite the overall end product being considerably more lukewarm. It seems as if this emerges from the general tone of the record being more inclined towards a mood-setting aesthetic for something to stick on in the background, which is perfectly respectable in principle, but without the songwriting chops to entirely justify such a venture, HAIM simply come across as playing it safe to the point of losing any semblance of edge or urgency to their music that it may have initially carried. Particularly in its latter half, Something To Tell You settles into a disappointingly complacent pattern, with most of these songs following the trio’s usual compositional formula to the letter; establishing a groove, filling the piece out with vocal harmonies that peak during the chorus, and rounding things off by contriving some quirk for the bridge section. In small doses, this blueprint can undoubtedly be effective, with everything from the catchy call-and-response between the vocals and the twangy guitar on the hook from Little Of Your Love to the swirling, fuzzed-out guitar solo towards the back-end of Kept Me Crying being perfect examples of HAIM’s small bursts of sticky songwriting abilities, and unequivocally plays a substantial role in the band’s success with singles. However, for an entire album’s worth of material, such a mechanical compositional philosophy can grow tiring rather quickly and, to an extent, can dull the impact of some of the songs that hold up the most when scrutinised outside the context of the record. Nothing’s Wrong, for instance, stood out as boasting one of the more compelling choruses on Something To Tell You upon first listen, but following subsequent listens to the entire album, the extent to which I became weary of HAIM’s songwriting template made me realise just how much the sparse bridge section, which features some weird, warped breathing set against a backdrop of oscillating synths, comes as a jarring change of pace that completely disrupts the flow of the song without adding to the track beyond flaunting an off-kilter production oddity. Likewise, the overall quality of the songwriting across Something To Tell You isn’t aided by the fact that, when HAIM do seemingly make an attempt to operate outside of their usual compositional paradigm and employ a more varied attitude towards fleshing out and structuring these songs, such efforts often come across as somewhat forced, or at least unnatural for the group’s style. The more linear approach applied on Right Now, for example, largely utilises constantly growing swells in the instrumentation to progress the track, which may make for one of the more sonically diverse songs in the tracklisting, but the rather thin vocal melodies that act as the underlying force that brings this piece together simply aren’t strong enough to carry the compositional weight placed on them by the song’s structure. With songs such as Walking Away and Night So Long employing a much more minimal framework without solidifying these structures with any cogent locomotive qualities, all too much of Something To Tell You feels dead in the water a lot of the time, or at least too comfortable in its listlessness to capture the full enthusiasm that HAIM are much more capable of conveying either through their singles or live performances.
The topic of HAIM’s live performances, which are often much more flattering for the band than their studio recordings, is a good segue for talking about the production, as much of the underwhelming amount of energy or bite across Something To Tell You circles back to certain choices from behind the desk, rather than by the trio themselves. When it comes to the sugary vocal layers and harmonies that HAIM have become known for, there are most definitely a handful of effective moments across the tracklisting, such as the dainty mocking vocals that are worked into Want You Back or the buoyant, cycling refrain of Nothing’s Wrong, which makes for one of the very few instances in the group’s discography wherein their repeated comparison by critics to Fleetwood Mac even vaguely makes sense to me. Even on these tracks, however, many production quirks are exploited that almost seem to paint HAIM into an artistic corner, with a lot of these decisions coming across as artificial or overblown, with the arbitrary, electronic squeals on Want You Back or the aforementioned breathy bridge of Nothing’s Wrong seemingly serving no purpose other than to distract from the trio’s core charm and potentially score some points with the alternative and indie pop crowd. Then there are songs like the title track, Night So Long or even Right Now that employ a sort of suppressed fidelity that could certainly work well for a more stripped-back and rootsy sound, but inevitably become overpowered by some of the instrumentation, like the abrupt outburst of booming drums on Something To Tell You or the oddly overbearing piano chords on Right Now. Indeed, an unfortunate recurring theme featured throughout much of the album’s production is simply how unfitting it can sound paired with HAIM’s style, almost as if there’s a conflict of interest between the band and the producers regarding the direction in which these songs are meant to be going.
Given all the expectations surrounding HAIM to have emanated from critic and journalist hype, Something To Tell You merely seems to have fallen short when it comes to justifying the trio’s placement atop their pop rock pedestal. Although having proven themselves, especially during their live performances, to have a keen ear for vocal harmonies, rivalling that of many of the heaviest hitters to function within a girl group model, HAIM’s latest album simply doesn’t translate this sense of edge or energy, with even the band’s performances coming across as rather perfunctory at times. Undoubtedly, therefore, the best moments from Something To Tell You amount to those that capture and convey the core appeal of the soft rock outfit, which played perhaps the salient role in skyrocketing HAIM to their sturdy position within the music industry off the back of some fantastically well-received festival appearances prior to the release of Days Are Gone. The fact, therefore, that particular parts of Something To Tell You act almost in direct contradiction to this makes the album feel that much more stilted at the worst of times. Overall, it would seem that HAIM’s style has simply suffered at the hands of some second-rate songwriting chops and stiff production choices that stink of a case of the sophomore slump.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5.5/10