Sungenre Album of the Month – May 2018
Prolific, critically-acclaimed Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House certainly don’t leave their fans hanging for long. Having just released a B-Sides and Rarities compilation only last year and two albums two years prior to that, they are now poised to release their seventh full-length studio album, represented in the title by the figure 7, on May 11. The title also serves as arbitrary celebration of the fact the band has released 77 songs together. 7 offers a smooth continuation of the lush, intricately woven sonic palette carved out on prior releases starting with their third effort, breakout hit LP Bloom (2012), while further developing and refining their songwriting and delivery in unexpected and intriguing ways. In their own words, “Our goal was rebirth and rejuvenation… In the past, we often limited our writing to parts that we could perform live. On 7… There are songs with layers and production that we could never recreate live, and that is exciting to us. Basically, we let our creative moods, instead of instrumentation, dictate the album’s feel.”
The album opens with a weighty, considered drum fill and quickly locks into a driving, mostly two-chord groove, punctuated by occasional shimmering electric guitar notes, on the undeniably addictive, melancholic, yet weirdly somehow simultaneously optimistic “Dark Spring”. The soothing, gentle vocal harmonies deliver evocative, stream-of-consciousness lyrics such as, “cold gun, glowing, night scene, started, remain, brought fear.” It’s a stellar opening track which lends itself well to multiple repeat listens.
The band’s self-professed newfound creative freedom is clearly evident in the sharp shift in dynamic on the next track, “Pay No Mind”. Opting for a down-tempo and largely predictable chord progression featuring stripped-back instrumentation driven by electric guitar, fuzzed-out synth bass and 80s-era reverb-soaked double snare hits, the song doesn’t particularly go anywhere, mostly seeming to serve as a nod to their influences. That said, the angelic choruses are beautifully produced and Victoria Legrand’s vocal melody lines throughout are rather catchy. Next track “Lemon Glow”, the album’s first single, provides another burst of radiant contrast, with an almost entirely electronic arrangement. The whirring synth and electronic hi hats provide a constant, propulsive bed layer for the rest of the instrumentation in one of the duo’s finest undertakings on this album.
“Most early religions… had a fascination with 7 as being the highest level of spirituality, as in ‘Seventh Heaven.’ At our best creative moments, we felt we were channeling some kind of heavy truth, and we sincerely hope the listeners will feel that,” the band explain on their Bandcamp page. “L’Inconnue” certainly carries this sentiment, expanding on the angelic chorus of “Pay No Mind” in a beautifully layered a cappella sung by Legrand in rounds. Each word and note is sustained, building cleverly on the one before it. A change of pace at 1:40 precedes the first percussion entry at the 2:15 mark. From there, the song casually builds and rides out. “Drunk In LA” is a superb, dreamy number which opens with choral sampling and a vocal delivery vaguely resembling that of Connan Mockasin, “I would climb the Eiffel Tower, like lettuce on the sky.”
Second single “Dive” comes next and it’s very easy to get caught up in the music at this point on the album. Indeed, many listeners will find their minds wandering as the blissful tones carry them off into a warm, pleasant daydream. “Black Car”, another single, is a track built around a synthesizer arpeggiator which starts off in its early stages sounding like an inspired, twisted, down-tempo cover version of “Message In a Bottle” by The Police. The song steadily evolves into a brilliantly constructed, textured sonic landscape.
“Lose Your Smile” is an easy-going, flanger-effected acoustic guitar ballad which starts off sounding like a psychedelic cover of Coldplay’s “In My Place” but soon thereafter carves out its own path. The next track, “Woo” offers a very familiar I, IV, V, IV chord progression and it honestly sounds like the perfect way to round out the album. Whether this feeling was intentional or not, a portion of the lyrics can be interpreted as a knowing wink to the listener, alluding to the fact that there’s actually two tracks to come still: “It’s a trick of the eye, it passes me by, keeps on going.” In that sense, the final two tracks come as a welcome bonus. “Girl Of The Year” serves as a hazy, anthemic penultimate curtain call, whilst the appropriately titled “Last Ride” is built around a soothing two chord vamp on piano. At seven minutes in length (what a coincidence!), it’s by far the longest track here. “The sun went black, the cycle ends,” croons a prophetic Legrand.
All in all, Beach House have served up a brilliant and immensely enjoyable seventh studio album in 7. It’s an album which, reassuringly for longtime fans, rather than showing any signs of withering, showcases Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand at their very best. Their songs here are elegantly and impeccably crafted. With a newfound sense of freedom, they have managed to explore fresh new ground, all the while staying true to the style which won them innumerable accolades for prior releases. 7 is an album which truly gets better upon each repeat listen and which will no doubt rank high among many music fans’ favourite albums of 2018.
7 is released Friday 11th May via Sub Pop, Bella Union and Mistletone.