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A sense of relief can be detected in Danielle Haim’s mascara-smeared eyes as she stands, unclad, in the center of a car wash, accepting the blows dealt by oversized blue bristles. Her sisters look on knowingly, safe behind the car wash’s plexiglass, as they attempt to literally wash away her depression.
This scene is depicted in Haim’s “Now I’m In It” video, one of the first singles to announce their third album Women In Music Pt. III. The visual serves as a metaphor for overcoming crippling depression by leaning on loved ones. It also encapsulates the many layers of unguarded emotion packed into Haim’s most powerful album yet.
Danielle was forthright about the video’s meaning and spoke candidly about her battle with depression. “For my sisters and I, there have been times in our lives where we have felt like we are stuck in a dark hole,” she wrote on Twitter. “Every time I’ve been depressed — it takes me accepting that I need help to start to get out of it.” While some may shy away from this kind of vulnerability, Haim instead find it empowering. Using humor as a tool to unpack their challenges, they show a new level of confidence throughout Women In Music Pt. III.
The Haim sisters wrote WIMPIII during a collective period of disillusionment after they ended their Something To Tell You tour and individually faced major life upheavals. Alana’s newfound free time forced her to confront the abrupt passing of her childhood best friend, Danielle’s partner and WIMPIII producer Ariel Rechtshaid was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and Este’s doctors advised that touring was taking a toll on her health, which had already been impacted by her lifelong fight with Type 1 Diabetes.
“Up From A Dream” speaks to this. Danielle’s detached lyrical delivery marries with a guitar’s droning textures to echo the haziness of uncertainty. She is content in her dreamland — evoked by samples of seagulls and crashing waves — until a cacophony of metallic guitars beckons her back to the anxiety of waking life. But within the realms of defeat, even reality seems unsure. “Are we already up from the dream / Or do we need to wake up again?” she asks.
Haim confront difficult past experiences on the record, but WIMPIII finds comfort through recognizing the humor in adversity. It’s as cheerily sarcastic as it is brutally honest. The title itself stands as an eye-roll response to tone-deaf reporters asking the dreaded question: “What is it like to be a woman in music?” The record’s album artwork further speaks to their sardonic sense of humor, which their other efforts merely scratched the surface of. The three women deadpan behind a deli counter, poised in front of massive, phallic sausages while a placard announces they are “now serving” customer number 69.
While their cover art overtly examines gender roles, their track “Man From The Magazine” playfully critiques sexist microaggressions. They detail real experiences, from getting asked inappropriately personal questions in interviews, to the frustration of guitar shop employees condescendingly correlating their feminine energy to lacking prowess. “Do you make the same faces in bed?” is both a line Danielle croons and a question that Este has actually been asked in reference to what she has affectionately coined her “bass face.”
A handful of songs on the record channel Haim’s signature jaunty pop honed through their last two albums. But some of their tracks teeter between genres, allowing for a type of experimentation not seen on previous efforts. “All That Ever Mattered” is a cathartic scream of self-worth validated by an energetic hair metal electric guitar solo. “3 AM” also experiments with style, probing sultry R&B radio hits the sisters grew up listening to on the radio — though its placement on the tracklist is vexing, sandwiched between two Joni Mitchell folk-rock numbers “Gasoline” and “Don’t Wanna.”
Haim use their lengthiest effort yet to break free from the rigidity of the label “women in music.” Through sincere openness, they reveal universal fluctuations of lived experiences: pain, loss, and mental health challenges, which are eventually eclipsed by sentimentality and the emotional salience of close relationships. WIMPIII proves that to be powerful is to be vulnerable and it demonstrates the importance of holding onto humor through hardship.
Women In Music Pt. III is out now via Columbia. Get it here.