“Why does it have to take off in a conventional sense? Enjoy the layers instead.”
“I don’t understand why people are complaining that this isn’t ‘going anywhere.’ Girl, it does not have to go anywhere! You hear that raw emotion in her voice? Yes queen!” (Becca Britton)
Haim is a pop-rock band from Los Angeles composed of three multi-instrumentalist sisters, Danielle, Alana, and Este Haim. Their recent “Right Now” is an interesting sonic study in how to make more from less, which on this song is a drum machine pulse, a few well placed chords, and some deconstructed drumming.
The song opens with a quiet drum machine rhythm with kick on beats 1 and 3, open-closed hi hats aflutter, and an organ melody descending over three pitches, F-E-D. The first surprise is hearing Danielle’s lead vocals and bassist Este’s back up responses (“right now, right now”) tumbling in and over the steady kick-hi hat pulse which draws your ear to the contrast between machine rigidity and the emotional swaying of the singing whose forward-moving phrasing brings intensity to the lyrics (“You left me searching for a reason / Why’d you leave, left me in the dust”). The song progresses as the organ melody is replaced by piano chords cycling through a progression, F major, a minor, and G major, which is soon joined by electric guitar and bass parts–first feedbacking sounds, then melodic lines that mirror the song’s Fmaj-Amin-GMaj cycle to add grit and depth. Then, just when you might think that the song might not be “going” anywhere, the band moves to a bridge with chromatic inflections that feels like an exhalation of gospel air.
The song’s second surprise comes near its end when Alana and Este move to a set of tom-toms. As the drum machine kick-hi hat pulse and the piano cycle around, we watch and hear real drumming added to the mix–first a floor tom rhythm, then a figure on the high toms. What is interesting in a more from less sort of way is how Alana and Este get four rhythm parts out of two sets of hands by playing what is essentially a deconstructed drum set (sans kick or snare drums). Each drummer strikes both the drum heads and the drum rims, which creates a double call-response between their left and right hands answering one another while dovetailing with the other set of hands. The parts are elegantly designed and the drumming meshes with the song in a double-time way that brings both complexity and space and lets us, as one YouTube viewer puts it, “enjoy the layers.” By weaving repetition and micro-variation tightly together, Haim’s “Right Now” keeps itself tensile, moving pop music’s patterns around like pieces of a puzzle.