words fae andrew barr (@weeandreww)
In 2018, Beach House are firmly established as indie royalty. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s dream-pop project already have 6 LPs under their belt, and even a glance at the reviews they have received over the course of their career would strongly suggest it foolish to call them anything but critical darlings. However, they are more than a critics’ band, as evidenced by their comfortable position near the top of the festival posters they appear on, such as Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival.
However, at this point, comfortable is a word that could be used to describe the duo in more ways than one. 2015’s surprise double release of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars rarely faltered in terms of quality, but Beach House perhaps became too comfortable in their trademark dreamy, hazy sound which they have been exploring since their debut. The sound was consistent, but it led to some fans and critics feeling like they wanted to hear the duo explore some new soundscapes.
So in 2018, Beach House have returned with their 7th record, simply entitled 7 in what feels like an effort to strip away any bullshit before the listener even hits play on the record. Or in the band’s words – in the Father John Misty-esque “essay’ they published with the record – “we hoped its simplicity would encourage people to look inside.” It would be unfair to call this a make-or-break album for Beach House, as they are already more than successful, but it feels like an important album for the Baltimore duo – which they acknowledged in their essay when they said, “Throughout the process of recording 7, our goal was rebirth and rejuvenation.”
I’m delighted to say this quote couldn’t be further from how Simon Neil talks up the latest Biffy release (yes, I’m still incredibly bitter he said Ellipsis would sound like Death Grips) because the “rejuvenation” of the duo’s sound is clear from the opening seconds of the record.
Opener Dark Spring jolts to life with an onslaught of thunderous drums which gives way to a frenetic synth that echoes LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire, two bands to whom Beach House have probably never been compared over their 14-year career. However, what is most enjoyable about 7 is that Beach House are experimenting, but they aren’t throwing out what fans and critics love about them. Victoria Legrand’s vocals are a calming balm atop the (relative) madness, and her lyrics are as cryptic and (literally) spacey as ever, as she sings about constellations for the track’s remarkably concise 3 minutes.
The “rejuvenation” of the duo is also evident on lead single Lemon Glow, which opens on some subtle, fast-paced drums and rolling synths, and which sounds like a classic Beach House instrumental played at 1.5x the speed. This is also one of the only tracks on the record with an easily discernible chorus – a simple two-line hook where Legrand visualises the glow from a dimmed light.
7 then makes its way to easily its strongest three-track run, and perhaps the best three-track run of the duo’s entire discography. L’inconnue (which translates to “The Unknown”) is a fascinating song where Beach House’s trademark beauty is replaced by a nightmarish eeriness, opening with multi-layered hypnotic Legrand vocals, and these only give way to a single vocal track after a psychedelic chord progression, where she opts to sing in French, including counting from one to seven which sounds almost cultish and completes this track’s uneasiness.
Following L’inconnue, an undisputed highlight, is no easy task, but Drunk in L.A. does so effortlessly. True to its title, the track feels unhinged, built on a quick drum beat and synth flourishes which feel almost random, however this track’s beauty comes from Legrand’s poetic lyrics about ageing with the climax, “I am loving losing life”. The second verse finds the track subtly adding layers and complexity, echoing the album’s patchwork art, with so many layers and instruments merging into one to form a beautiful collage. In the least Beach House fashion, the track’s climax comes with a guitar solo, which doesn’t feel one bit out of place.
This stunning three-track run is completed by second single Dive, which is a traditional, beautiful slow-paced Beach House song with world-building lyrics. However, this is only until the 2:20 mark, where the beautiful layered vocals give way to a guitar riff which quadruples the track’s BPM and provides a sense of urgency which has rarely been heard in the Beach House discography this far. It suits them, especially if you consider the dreamy flourishes which sit atop the racing guitar.
The second half of the record is more typical of the Beach House we know thus far, but there are still clear signs of the duo’s “rejuvenation.” Lose Your Smile is carried by a warm acoustic guitar, which feels like such a natural fit in the band’s sonic universe, you wonder why the duo haven’t used it more throughout their career. By the time this track reaches its beautiful climax, the music is so heavenly you believe every word of Legrand’s promise that “dreams, baby, do come true.”
A theme which subtly introduces itself in the second half of this record is a celebration of femininity. On Woo, where a drum machine comes and goes subtly, allowing the pace to shift naturally, Legrand sings of “when she closes her eyes” and later adds “you will braid your hair” in-between fabulously multi-layered vocals in the track’s climax. This theme is more explicit on Girl of the Year, a track likely dedicated to Edie Sedgwick, who was one of Andy Warhol’s Factory Girls, called “girl of the year” in 1965. She died young of a drug overdose, but Legrand here celebrates her while bemoaning the tragedy, with lyrics like, “Get dressed to undress / Depressed to impress” before mourning “Baby’s gone / All night long.”
The album’s final track, Last Ride, subtly continues this theme, with Legrand repeating “there she goes” as she seems to narrate a romantic encounter between two characters over one of the album’s most beautiful instrumentals – opening with a grand piano which is overdubbed with distortion and is soon joined by guitars, drums and electronic keys, all joining and furthering the track seamlessly, forming another collage in the image of the album’s art.
7 is undoubtedly an album Beach House had to make. It’s the duo’s grandest album yet, which the band touched on themselves in their essay: “In the past, we often limited our writing to parts that we could perform live. On 7, we decided to follow whatever came naturally.” It’s a change that suits them. The extra instrumentation brings a new dimension and urgency to the two-piece’s sound while also making their trademark dreamy moments even more dreamy and beautiful. Album number 7 may well be Beach House’s best yet.