The other weekend at a party I met a guy who couldn’t stop smiling. “I’m just really happy,” he said. “I finally listened to this new album, and now I can’t stop listening to it. I keep thinking about when I’m going to get to listen to it again, and I smile just thinking about how fucking good it is.” I’m paraphrasing because I’m not a creep who records my party conversations—at least not generally. But, seriously, that’s pretty much what he said.
“I know what you mean,” I told him, thinking of my current binge. A month or two ago I had a friend tell me that Haim was “THE breakup album of the summer.” Curious about what that might mean, and always in the market for a good breakup album (you know, the kind of empowering musical stuff that reminds you that you are you and you are awesome and you don’t need anyone but yourself and, come on, didn’t that ex of yours once pass out in a bush?), I listened. I listened again. Indeed, the lyrics often indicated heartbreak and a longing that things might be different... but the music itself was so much fun, and, yes, really catchy, with surging harmonies and rhythms, songs that morph in style and tone and energy in the course of their play. It's poppy, but with enough outrage and righteous WTF to keep things interesting; the Haim sisters (yay, sisters) teeter on the edge of serious, and that's a good thing for anyone who fears the cloying pits of 100 percent earnest. I listened again. I couldn’t stop listening. Since then, there’s been other stuff in the mix, but most of the time I’m cueing up Haim. Is it “THE breakup album of the summer”? Is it even summer? Does it matter? It does not.
The irony of a "great breakup album," though, is that listening to a new album, when it’s good, is itself a bit like falling in love. You hear these sounds, things you’ve never heard before—not like that anyway—things you maybe didn’t even have the brain-space to imagine before now, and, suddenly, holy shit, you feel amazing. Wait, this exists in the world and is mine for the taking? How did I get so lucky? You draw comparisons, trying to figure out why you like it so much and what in your history has led you here: “This reminds me a little bit of Fleetwood Mac,” maybe, or, in some rhythmic instances, Vampire Weekend. Is it like Heart? Is it the nostalgic-but-new-again ‘80s vibe that pulls you in so that you don’t want to let go? Is there the tiniest bit of—by God—Tiffany in there? Is it TLC? Whatever, you’re not listening to those old albums now, you only want this one. You want to listen to these sounds over and over and over again, and there’s nothing wrong with that, so you do. Soon enough, it’s just the two of you, as close as can be, when you’re working, when you’re drifting off to sleep, when you’re cleaning the apartment or commuting or just sitting around in sweats in that comfortable togetherness that comes when you’ve gotten to know someone a little bit better and can simply be, together. You get home; you turn it on.
The music becomes more familiar and then even more so, like you grew up together, like you've been friends since high school. It still has surprises to offer you, though. You hear it at different volumes, you mix things up and listen in a different order. You have favorite songs, until you discover a new song or beat or a lyric you'd not paid attention to, a nugget of gold once hidden, an emerald under a rock, and suddenly your world changes yet again. It has so much to offer, this album, and it's all so intimate—right in your ear, but also in your mind. The time comes that you can predict what’s happening next, finish the lyrics, hum along without missing a beat. You can even sing the whole thing on your own, without the music itself, though that’s not as much fun. A song begins, and you involuntarily shake your head, jerk your chin, move your shoulders up and down. You shout out the lyrics and shake your fist in the air (especially during “My Song 5”); you dance, alone or with others. If you meet this album you adore on a night out in a dark bar, you go freaking insane, jumping up and down in joy, spilling your drink all over whoever else you're with. You know this music, and you can’t imagine life without it. It has become just a little bit of you. You're in love, and so you say it, out loud. "I love this album! I love this song! This is my favorite band! Ahhhhhhhhhh!" or "SHHHHHHHHH I need to hear THIS" or "THIS IS MY JAM."
Sometimes it’s a lone song on an album that gets to you like this. When I was a wee forsaken child it was Skid Row’s “I Remember You.” Oh, I listened to that metal ballad so much it’s embarrassing, and as I did I was mooning over my one true love, a guy in my class who’d barely ever spoken to me and certainly wouldn’t remember me now. I listened and moped and listened and moped and listened and then I just stopped, and I have never needed to go back because growing up is good for some things, at least. Sometimes it’s a whole album that knocks you off your feet and changes your expectations, leaving you wanting more, and realizing that there can be more. Sometimes you find out the love you feel for an album or song isn’t necessarily all that good for you. It’s bringing you down, sort of like dating someone who makes you feel bad about yourself, and though you might enjoy wallowing in the heartbreak and sadness for a while, you’re going to have to pull yourself up and move on. But in more cases than not, love with a good album is a good thing. A good album, much like a good boyfriend or girlfriend, can make you feel like an even better you.
For me, this is true with Haim. There is an undeniable lightness that brings me up, not down, even when the song lyrics aren't themselves particularly happy. Their new album is called Days Are Gone, but listening, it feels like things are possible (it's not so much that the days are gone, but that there are new days on the horizon, which, thank goodness for that). The songs flow into one another and pull me along with them, making it less an album full of songs and more an experience, a dance-y, happy, supportive, it’s all gonna be good, don’t worry, we’ve been there too experience. Maybe it's a breakup album, but it's not dealing in breakup pain—it's serving up breakup pain medication. And I can't help smiling to myself, even when I'm out in public or at a party, thinking, "When am I going to get to listen to that again?"
Jen Doll is probably dancing down the street. She writes for The Atlantic, The Hairpin, New York Magazine, the New York Times, the Toast, and elsewhere. Her first book is due out from Penguin/Riverhead in the Spring of 2014. She's on Twitter — @thisisjendoll