I never thought I had it in me to appreciate Haim. Like most bored Midwestern kids born in the ’80s, I found punk rock at a young age and presumed that the part of my brain capable of appreciating “pop” music that wasn’t grafted to buzzing power chords played at breakneck speeds had been lobotomized. A less-cynical friend emailed me a copy of Days Are Gone, the 2013 record that vaulted this trio of 20-something sisters from the Valley to overnight-sensation status, but I deleted it right after I Googled their name and fell face-first into a deluge of sun-drenched press photos of the girls looking both playful and apathetic in head-to-toe, pseudo-boho Coachella chic. I hastily decided I hadn’t the time to waste on more overproduced SoCal bubblegum and moved on to Deafheaven’s Sunbather, a punishing metalcore record bursting at the seams with tattered yowling about pretty rich girls lounging in the California sun.
The irony of this was not lost on me. Sadly, it’s irony that serves as my generation’s life vest for plunges into the deep end of pop music’s crystalline waters. We wear tattered Journey T-shirts and sing “Let’s Get Physical” at karaoke with a wink and a nod, but we wouldn’t be caught dead with any of this on our iPods. We use pithy genre tags like “indie” and “lo-fi” to claim upbeat, user-friendly music with populist aspirations as our own, regardless of the strident commercial aspirations of groups like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend rendering the term “sellout” as flaccid as ever. In the case of Haim, disparate publications from Time to Pitchfork all reached the same conclusion: This is a hi-fi pop-rock gold mine without the slightest trace of “indie” posturing. You’ll like it or you won’t, and it couldn’t care less about the outcome.
If your patchwork of ’80s memories includes blasting Roxette and Richard Marx while being shuttled around in your mom’s station wagon, the glam-rock stomps and blown-out riffage of Days Are Gone’s lead single “The Wire” are, at the least, instantly familiar. For a 30-year-old crank with an allergy to the homogenous chaff of top-40 radio, it was a wake-up call. After no less than 10 consecutive listens, I rolled down the windows of my own station wagon and gave the rest of the record a proper try-on. Overflowing with soaring girl-gang vocals, anthemic punk-lite ballads and a compressed, airtight soft-rock sheen gluing it all together, this record is a faux-retro treasure trove.
After a month of nonstop listening, my transformation from cynical music snob to hopeful poptimist shook loose memories of the Hall and Oates concert I attended the summer before as some kind of dumb (and expensive) joke. Bud Light was $12, so I spent the first half of the show sober and miserable. It wasn’t until I removed my tongue from my cheek and belted out the lyrics to “Maneater” with graying suburbanites in Tommy Bahama shirts that I came to the same realization I was having all over again with Haim: Pop music is not rocket science. Its means need no ends to justify its existence. It’s there for your pleasure, whether you like it or not, so you might as well enjoy it.
Haim plays at 7:25 pm Aug. 17. Info and tickets at musicfestnw.com.