TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the debut album by HAIM, a pop group led by sisters Estelle, Danielle, and Alana Haim. The Southern California trio has opened for acts such as Mumford and Sons and Vampire Weekend. Before the release this week of their album "Days Are Gone," the group attracted attention for their new take on pop rock.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T SAVE ME")
HAIM: (Singing) Never thought that I would grow so old to have seen the gold. Still, I never wanted to go. I would hold it up to my cold heart. Feel the way it used to start up. Take me back, take, take me, take me back to the way that I was before. Hungry for what was to come now I'm longing for the way I was. You say you will, say you will save me.
(Singing) You say you will, you say you will save me. You say, you say you will save me. You say, say you will. Uh-oh. Take me back...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The three Haim sisters are in their 20s with plenty of experience, including some earlier years spent playing in a band formed by and performing with their parents. Each is a multi-instrumentalist, each sings. They write their own material. Here ends the questions-of-authenticity part of the review. Not that questions of being musical lightweights are going to be resolved for some listeners, because HAIM works in that most vexed and scorned of genres: pop-rock.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WIRE")
HAIM: (Singing) You know I'm bad at communication. It's the hardest thing for me to do. And they say it's the most important part that relationships will go through. And I gave it all away just so I could that I know, I know, I know, I know that you're going to be OK anyway. You know there's no rhyme or reason for the way you turned out to be. I didn't go and try to change my mind, not intentionally.
(Singing) You know, it's hard to keep a seat but I can't bear to stay here. I just I know, I know, I know, I know that you're going to be OK anyway.
TUCKER: Your notion of pop-rock may derive from American manufactured products like The Monkees and The Archies, or from British acts like T-Rex and The Sweet, from whom HAIM probably extracted the thumping beat of that song, "The Wire."
I'd suggest that these Southern California sisters are tapping into that geographical area for precedents - anything from the '60s harmonies of The Mamas and the Papas to the '80s pop-punk of The Bangles. On a song such as "Honey and I," you can also hear the vocal inflections of a Canada-imported Lady of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY AND I")
HAIM: (Singing) Goodnight. I know there's nothing good in good-bye but you leave me to no other line. No other line. Eyes wide when you walked through the door. You made your way across the floor, holding up girls that are trying to dance, trying to dance. No, no, no, no. See, I'm not afraid no more. I'm not afraid no more. To turn you away no more. Turn you away no more.
(Singing) To turn you away. To turn you away. 'Cause my honey and I...
TUCKER: The HAIM sound is one of vocals, guitars and drums hovering over thick layers of synthesizers and keyboards. To make this sound work, it has to be structured around a crisp verse-chorus-verse structure, or it just sounds like dreamy or irritating noodling around. The lyrics focus on falling in love and coming to terms with one's own power in a relationship.
They tend to be less important, however, than the sound of the singing. In this, the sisters benefit a bit from harmonies bred in the genes, but in every case, one of them seizes the lead with that nice pop-rock paradox: plaintive assertiveness. Occasionally, they remind you that they're part of the hip-hop generation by mixing things up in a precisely fractured composition such as "My Song 5."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SONG 5")
HAIM: (Singing) I found it hard to try to reserve. I'll get it right when I hurt. Hot for me. Romance is on. Hot for me. To her he'll go. Hot for me. I'll be fine. Hot for me. 'Cause I know he's in her heart, on the floor thinking that I'm out the door. I'll be up going through crazy (bleep) I did for you. In my mind, in my head, see that all the words I've said.
(Singing) Honey, honey, I am never coming home again. I've been...
TUCKER: Ultimately, a big part of the proof of HAIM's worth is whether this already highly publicized act can turn its hype into hits. The fate and glory of pop-rock is that it needs to actually be popular to complete the circuit of success. Without it, you're a cult act that's lucky to attract a cult. If I were younger and HAIM had a fan club, I'd probably join it. But the real bottom-line question is, how many of you out there would?
GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "Days Are Gone" by the sister group HAIM. You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org. You can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. Our blog is on Tumblr at freshair.npr.tumblr.com.