HAIM's debut, Days Are Gone, is an impeccably crafted fusion of late-'80s and '90s pop influences, with the most innovative tracks integrating rock n' roll staples with lighter, seemingly incongruous references to bubble-gum pop and girl-group R&B: "The Wire" opens with a rallying stomp-clap rhythm and a teasingly spare electric guitar line, building to a staccato, string-laden chorus that recalls the disco-inflected hook of Carly Rae Jepson's ubiquitous earworm "Call Me Maybe," while "My Song 5," a dramatic departure from the rest of the album, modulates between a sludgy mix of distorted guitar effects and effervescent, Destiny's Child-esque harmonies, resulting in an uncanny stylistic friction between vocals and backing music.
For all the inventiveness with which HAIM repurposes retro elements, though, their lyrics tend to rely on the type of hackneyed similes ("Felt like I was walking on a tight rope") and empty near-rhymes ("If you want to see me baby please/Been holding on for eternity") that pop music has been peddling for decades. The vocals in a song like "Falling" accomplish little more than adding another layer to the instrumental mix, as the lines are short and repetitive, including dead-end phrasing like "If it gets rough/It's time to get rough." The album's refashioning of retro touches hardly feels like pastiche, yet this sonic richness makes it easy to overlook the album's lack of emotional range and reliance on clichéd pop tropes. Because the surface is so smooth, it takes a listen or two to discover how little depth lies beneath it.