The best albums of 2020, No 7: Haim – Women in Music Pt III

“As soon as you stop looking, you’ll find it.” This is something that single people in search of love always get told, and it’s very annoying – doubly so when it invariably turns out to be true. Music is perhaps the same way: if you set off to find the perfect partner you’ll end up walking past them, and if you try to write the perfect song, it’ll get away from you. Then when you’re idly working on something else, there it suddenly is.

On their third album and first masterpiece, Haim sound like a band who stopped looking; who took their eyes off the prize and found it at their feet. It should be underlined that the sororal US trio’s previous albums, Days Are Gone (2013) and Something to Tell You (2017) are very good: slick without smoothing too much over, and while they felt tense and even airless at times, the licks they were playing were meant to be tight.

But Women in Music Pt III – a droll title that lampoons the media’s “these chicks can really rock” framing of the group that endures even into 2020 – is much looser, the sisters’ shoulders more relaxed. Their earlier albums were very produced: think of the very first sound many people heard by them, the drums that open debut single Forever, which aren’t synthetic but are so obviously chopped up and arranged on Pro Tools. Like a lot of other soft rock, this highly composed style is part of the appeal; on Women in Music Pt III there’s just as much clever arrangement, and it’s far from a tedious “back to basics” or “vintage” sound. The difference now is that each instrumental line sounds as if it begins and ends in a room rather than caught between Dropbox folders.

The breeziness feels like a warm draft off the Pacific, rather than the wind machines they were using before. Up from a Dream, for example, has the same rollicking rhythm as The Wire from their debut. Both are great songs, but the newer one has a warmer, messier swirl of sound in the mix, which feels truer to life somehow, less sorted.

The extra space throws more light on the lyrics, which have fewer metaphors, more storytelling – open-ended vignettes of casual sex and hesitant commitment – and bald statements: “It’s fucked up but it’s true / that I love you like I do / So I’m just gon’ keep on loving you.” There’s a whole saga crammed into the Gasoline line “you say you wanna go slow but I wanna go faster”: Danielle wants her lover to speed up and for their relationship to match the pace, but the note of bruised hesitance in her voice speaks volumes.

Their melody writing is even better and (the fussy All That Ever Mattered aside) every song has such a robust tune. 3AM shows their facility for a tight minor-key R&B hook, segueing into I Don’t Wanna’s joyful, open-hearted major. I’ve Been Down is a mark of not just clever but genius songwriting: they make three monosyllables sung at nearly the same pitch into a catchy and affecting chorus. FUBT is equally magical, its riff meandering and steadfast at the same time.

These sustained strengths make Women in Music Pt III a truly classic record, not just one you admire but that gets its corners worn and its sleeve scuffed from overuse: the record that’s just what you’re looking for when you’re not even looking for it.