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Haim’s “Right Now” Is an Understated but Welcome Return

Honest question: Are Haim famous? Sure, they tour with Taylor Swift’s #squad, and you’d do a double-take if you saw them walking around a festival, but they don’t have a TMZ tag. Pop stardom might yet come; betting against charming, musically adored siblings is never a good idea. But their sophomore record, the follow-up to 2013’s debut Days Are Gone, comes as they might push forward into that rarefied plane, or linger in that “indie-but-on-a-major” safe space.

Some hint at their upcoming direction came today, when four years and however many oblique teasers since Days Are Gone, Haim returned not with a bang, but with… a burble. “Right Now” is mature, understated, down tempo, buttoned-up–not a song of the summer, but definitely a song that might play during the summer. It has those Haim hallmarks—a guitar that squalls, then stops; some muted, stiff strums; Taiko drum patterns; lyrics about a love that didn’t work out—but placed in a tight, restrained structure. It’s oddly underwhelming to hear at first. It even seems like they might have misused one of their famous people connections, as Paul Thomas Anderson—who, in a perfectly Angeleno coincidence, was taught by their mother—shot the accompanying video, which just shows them hanging out in the studio.

The video is casual to a point where it almost seems contrived, with some idle banter beginning the song—”Are we rolling? Oh! I was waiting for action“—and the mics turned up so loudly you can hear Alana and Este as they step around the instruments. But the charms reveal themselves when the expectations of a new Haim single get toned down. It’s impressive, watching Danielle growl through each line reading, watching Alana and Este switch instruments on the fly, their polymathic skills on display under PTA’s encompassing eye, watching Este’s truly singular bass faces even when she’s not playing the bass. (Why not? She’s in her zone; don’t let her get out of her zone.) It seems to remind you: They might eventually become pop stars, but don’t forget they’re truly in the pocket as musicians.

This version of “Right Now”—stressed as a live, studio take—will not be a hit, but it’s not meant to be. The single with staying power will presumably come next month, when they play Saturday Night Live. So what if Bob Big Label might call it a questionable release strategy? They’re going to move at their own pace, instead of rocketing to meet expectations. And while maybe you or me could’ve directed the cameraman to focus on Danielle, and then Este, and then Alana, we couldn’t have found the video’s sublime blue tone, which truly sells the song’s sadness. I thought of William Gass writing in On Being Blue, a philosophical meditation on the titular color: “Disappointment, constant loss, despair… a taste, a soft quality in the air, a color, a flutter: permanent in their passage. We were not up to it. We missed it. We could not retain it. It will never be back. Joy-breaking gloom continues to hammer. So it’s true: Being without Being is blue.” Then there’s Danielle’s look, which closes the video: possibly forlorn but definitely finished, ready for the next thing.

CORRECTION: This post originally misspelled Este Haim’s name.