On one hand, a collaboration between producer Calvin Harris and the band HAIM makes the most sense in world. It also makes no sense at all. The latter, three sisters who swept up the indie music scene in 2013 in a bow made of golden sunlight, “travel in cosmically disparate circles,” according to a SPIN cover story on the band. They’ll collaborate with A$AP Ferg on a track, work with electro-poptimists CHVRCHES, and back up indie-pop legends Primal Scream with tambourines. Their flexibility is built into their sound: an easy, pliable style of rock that seems to permeate out of Stevie Nicks’ closet. Through songs on their debut, Days Are Gone, and through reputation gained on Twitter and their energetic live shows, they’ve become known as the nicest band indie you could ever meet.
So there are these nice, likable girls who have made a noise staying in their lane. And then there’s Calvin Harris. The same year HAIM made their delightful debut, Harris made $46 million qualified him as the highest paid DJ in the world. In 2014, Harris obtained this title, bequeathed by Forbes, by making $66 million. His style is maximal: playing over a hundred parties a year, carving out the corner for emotional bangers like Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and Ellie Goulding’s “I Need Your Love” like it was second nature.
For HAIM, a fun piece of fan interaction is demanding a guy from a concert throw his shoes on stage. For Harris, it’s when he poses in his underwear for Giorgio Armani and gets over 19,000 Instagram comments. The two both love collaboration, so it’s not shocking that they’d work together. But could they actually make a good song together? Where would they find middle ground?
The answers are a) yes and b) disco. On “Pray to God,” Harris recognizes where the HAIM sound comes from: the 1970s Laurel Canyon folk scene, which fostered talents like Frank Zappa and the Byrds. He stays in the time period, but moves the band across the country to Studio 54. The electro-machine-squiggles that he brings to Rihanna are nowhere to be found here. In their place, you have a hustling bassline and the faintest shrieks of violin strings. Harris allows HAIM to HAIM it up, but makes their sound sparkle.
For their part, the sisters bring a song that wouldn’t be out of place on an album, telling a story of trying to get over the intensity of a relationship. One of their strongest characteristics, their chemistry on vocals, comes through as they breathlessly harmonize near the end of the song, “I was living in the heat of the moment / I give into you.”
It’s a collaboration where both sides play up their strengths to create a sense of urgency, where differences are something that can be mediated through a knowledge of history and a desire for changing the status quo. The only sweat broken on this track is that of those dancing to it. In an era where dancey rock music is largely seen as a thing of the past, HAIM figured out the best way to make it work: expand.