Damsels make dazzling debut

SINGAPORE - Cascading of locks, these two bands have the Pollyanna image down pat, but you would be dead wrong to think they actually are.

Los Angeles' Haim and Oslo's Mona & Maria aren't shy woodsy elves. They cut their teeth on earlier bands and won't be shoved around.

Haim are three sisters, Este, 27, Danielle, 24, and Alana, 21, who perform under their family name. Daughters of real-estate agents, they come across as worldly offspring of 1960s sybarites who congregate in the LA neighbourhood of Laurel Canyon.

They are a ruddy marriage of unlikely genres: lush 1970s/1980s West Coast soft rock melded to the sexy, propulsive rhythms of modern R&B.

A spin of their debut, Days Are Gone, proves why they appeal. Think of them as the sonic equivalent of Sandra Bullock - they can be goofy and tough, just like the actress who somehow ends up as America's sweetheart without being prissy.

A key factor is the band's sponge-like open-ness. They have no hang-ups in referencing vinyls their parents listen to - limber guitar riffs of The Eagles and adult sophisticate grooves of Fleetwood Mac, in particular.

Take, for instance, the first three songs of the album.

A heart-stirring bassline underpins Falling, which glides along on a tricksy guitar riff, dancey beats and a selfempowerment chorus that goes: "Don't stop, no, I'll never give up/And I'll never look back."

The next two tracks, Forever and The Wire, are also painted with bold strokes. You sway to the harmonies which strut like vintage Stevie Nicks.

Yet, the trio know how to add their own indie-rock sass to the mix. Let Me Go starts off moody and echoey, then transforms into a sharp Jack White-type blues stomper with tribal drumming and febrile guitar. My Song 5 has girl-group swagger amid its shape-shifting time signatures.

No wonder they're hotly courted by everyone from Jay Z to Mumford & Sons.

Less hyped but quietly rising are Mona & Maria, the Norwegian duo comprising Mona Andersen, 27, and Maria Knudsen, 28. Their radiant debut My Sun has the touchstones of beloved folk/pop acts, old and new, yet subsists in its own rarefied clime.

On heavenly gems Venus and Northern Wind, they croon like Swedish sisters First Aid Kit, or the progeny of lost- and-found folk recluse Vashti Bunyan, while invoking wondrous psych-folk epiphanies of the American indie-folk lovelies Fleet Foxes.

You're left speechless: A baroque cathedral of woodwind, bells and bassoon and what-nots, these songs beseech you to pause, then course through you.

INDIE POP/ROCK

Album: Days Are Gone
Artiste: Haim
Label: Universal
Rating: 4 out of 5

INDIE FOLK/POP

Album: My Sun 
Artiste: Mona & Maria
Label: Jansen Plateproduksjonon

Rating: 4 out of 5 

kaichai@sph.com.sg


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