This year, instead of putting our favourite albums into a no-doubt 100% objective list, we're taking a deeper look at how 2013's most influential records have shaped the landscape of independent music. Today, we shine the spotlight on HAIM... or rather behind HAIM at Ariel Rechtshaid, the super-producer with fingerprints all over the year's biggest indie-leaning pop.
Also, check out Deafheaven's Sunbather and Metal's Blurred Lines.
If any band had a breakout year in 2013, it was Los Angeles' HAIM sisters. In the same calendar year that they released their debut album Days Are Gone, they guested at Saturday Night Live, got a chunky feature in Rolling Stone, BNM-ed over at Pitchfork, and topped the BBC's Sound of 2013 list. Marvelous. But there is, in fact, a much larger, much less publicized success story that belongs to the dude behind the Californian trio.
Consider this: in 2013, the same producer gave us HAIM's Days Are Gone, Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampire of the City, Sky Ferreira's Night Time, My Time, and most of Charli XCX's True Romance. He played a big part in Solange's late-2012 True EP along with buddy Dev Hynes (who he's also produced). It's the same guy that Snoop (Lion) went to for Reincarnated. Hell, the same guy who quietly co-wrote Usher's "Climax" last year, and believe it or not, Plain White T's' "Hey There Delilah" some years before that. The guy's a bona fide pop hit-maker — how the name Ariel Rechtshaid isn't yet household is criminal. After this banner year, that's certainly going to change.
The thirty-four-year-old, L.A. native started in the music industry in his teens on the other side of the glass, fronting an unremarkable ska punk group called The Hippos in the day of No Doubt and Reel Big Fish. Through the '00s, he played in the near-equally unremarkable folk rock band Foreign Born. This was his guinea pig. Through writing, recording, and touring with Foreign Born, he became busier behind the scenes, writing and producing for other bands. There was "Hey There Delilah," he did Active Child's You Are All I See. He's all over the excellent Catacombs by Cass McCombs. His credits grew and grew behind the thin veil that curtains off who the industry insiders see as an exploding star and the faces the consumer marketplace get to know. He befriended Diplo and they started sharing tracks. He worked on Blood Orange's debut. He did a song with Bieber.
He's the indie pop Max Martin, a taste-maker shaping the mode du jour of pop music (though Rechtshaid's influence certainly extends to the radio, his true kingdom is online with the kind of pop that sits just on the fringe of mainstream appetites, gets celebrated in the blogosphere, and then gobbled up on iTunes). But what's most interesting is that unlike Martin or Dr. Luke — or The-Dream or Clams Casino or Hit-Boy for more contemporary references — Rechtshaid doesn't have a signature sound. There's no sonic quirk that defines him (though there are fondnesses and footholds: jangly guitars, new wave synths, a reverence for '90s R&B). If he can be said to have a brand of pop at all, his music pulls from throughout history and piles an artist's influences on top of themselves at once. He plays with their musical genealogy.
Of HAIM, he told LA Weekly: "They've been playing music since they were very young, and while they may not listen to Michael Jackson every day now... it's embedded in their musical DNA. So if you're not feeling those abilities and influences, I feel like it's a disservice to them." For a bunch of Rechtshaid's fold, many of whom have sat on the peripheries of the pop game for years, it's a matter of amplifying those roots (ie. Sky Ferreira who was doing this naturalistic Jon Brion singer-songwriter sound before Rechtshaid gave her a punk edge). For more established acts who want something new, he pulls on threads that have long lie dormant — he took Vampire Weekend's "African guitars" and sent them towards American gospel.
In an era when there are fewer and fewer super producers (most albums corral the work of many producers), there is Rechtshaid, this floppy-haired, skate punk from L.A.. His pedigree makes him unlikely, but that's also probably what makes him dynamic. Some might call him a visionary and that's not crazy, but the truth is Rechtshaid has no grand designs on the future sounds of pop. He's no Nostradamus. He's more like the pop game's most eminent tarot reader — he knows your past, he predicts your future, and he's churning out happy customers one at a time.
If you want a nice, long read on Rechtshaid, check out this excellent Grantland piece.
READ: The Albums That Defined Indie Music in 2013: Deafheaven's Sunbather and Metal's Blurred Lines
HAIM, Days Are Gone:
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City:
Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time:
Charlie XCX, True Romance: