2 stars (out of 4)
On their debut album, “Days are Gone” (Columbia/Polydor), Los Angeles-based siblings Danielle, Este and Alana Haim make it impossible to ignore their obvious allegiance to ‘80s pop and its production values. Calling what they do “retro” doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s like the last two decades never happened.
Danielle and Este were previously in a teen-pop group, Valli Girls, and they’ve adopted a slightly tougher sound with hints of Vixen-style mainstream metal and hip-hop in a mix of purring synthesizers, reverberating programmed beats and tightly scripted melodies. With the bulk of the production by Ariel Rechtshaid, whose myriad credits range from Vampire Weekend to Usher, “Days are Gone” revels in its artificial gleam. There’s not a hint of dirt, grime or even lint to be found anywhere, and the parade of verse-chorus melodies brims with little hooks and ear worms.
“Falling” evokes Peter Gabriel with its layered, reverberating percussion, “Forever” nicks Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back,” “The Wire” channels the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight.” The trio isn’t much for extravagant singing. Instead, they use their voices like percussion instruments, and create intricate patterns with their harmonies. The emphasis on rhythm and rhythmic accents is one of the albums distinguishing features. But these aren’t grooves meant for dancing. Instead, their mechanical precision reinforces the vocal hooks, with synthesizers filling in the cracks.
The lyrics flirt with turmoil – there are lots of songs about holding on or jumping into the fire, and so forth – but don’t really say much of anything. Nothing more appears to be at stake than sounding innocuously catchy. Only “My Song 5” evinces a personality -- a collage of elephant noises, spastic beats and operatic bombast. It’s the album’s one experiment, an eccentric exception amid the rehashed artifice.