[Universal; 2020]

Within the first 30 seconds of Haim’s third album Women in Music Pt. III it is evident they are back to their effortlessly cool best. The work Danielle Haim did with Vampire Weekend on last year’s Father of the Bride seems to have rubbed off on the trio, and having ex-Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij return for production duties certainly helps to capture a similarly evocative and rich pop style. Opening cut “Los Angeles” bristles with lightness and personality that recalls the New York band, but has the sisters’ own unique attitude. It feels sprightly and carefree enough to be music for a Coke commercial; you can actually visualize a young female bouncing across the street with a boom box on her shoulder (because people still do that, right?), while kids in the street get sprayed with fire hydrant water.

Taking a tremendous leap from their sophomore slump(ish) Something to Tell You, the Haim sisters – Danielle, Alana, and Este – return with a pop-rock opus. They’ve affectionately titled it after every cover story, the “women in (insert topic)” appellation used as a dis to publications still stuck in anachronistic conventions, showing the trio are confident masters of their own domain.

Throughout the album, the sisters are in top form and still keeping those Fleetwood Mac vibes alive. Early banger “The Steps” even finds them dabbling in an almost Shania Twain-like country-pop bop. There is a rhythmic audacity that continuously radiates from Women in Music Pt. III, best evidenced by the groove-based “Up From a Dream” and the booming “Don’t Wanna”, which harks back to the stadium-sized singles of their earlier albums.

Everything here is produced with a golden and warm Cali-pop style, something that works to the advantage of Haim for the most part, but it does make the record feel a little transparent as it progresses. The length of the album doesn’t help, as it clocks in at almost an hour long if you count the three bonus tracks. And you should, seeing as they are the 2019 singles “Now I’m In It”, “Hallelujah”, and “Summer Girl”, which are still some of the best tracks here and are served an unfair deal by being stuck on the end of this 16-track offering (though most Haim fans have probably played them to death by now).

Women in Music Pt. III feels more taxing when you consider the compactness of their previous outings. This is felt in stylistic detours like the R&B-inflected “3AM”, which effectively disrupts the flow to spice things up, but ultimately slows things down too much and could easily have been relegated to a b-side. The breezy “Leaning On You” suffers similarly, as it takes a laid-back approach and delivers on that carefree sound, but doesn’t stand out in an album that’s already packed with great songs of this ilk.

Haim make a leap on Women in Music Pt. III with more personal lyricism that feels exponentially more mature than anything they’ve released before. The employment of stream-of-consciousness writing pays off on cuts like “I Know Alone”, where Haim address tour depression with heart. It’s this balance between light and dark that makes the record such a success. Women in Music Pt. III is by no means perfect, but its strengths assuredly outweigh the weaknesses. Haim feel completely in the moment here, and are working stronger than ever as a unit.

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