Beach House‘s new album “7” is out on Bella Union.
Most bands never get the chance to grow old together, let alone having a shot at growing old with dignity. Beach House have been around since the mid 2000s, when their dream-pop-inspired first two albums positioned them as one of the most promising indie bands in the world. However, it wasn’t until their third album “Teen Dream” came out in 2010 that they became a household name both for critics and for the general public – their incredibly consistent LPs are always a staple in end of the year album lists, and their last 4 albums have all charted pretty well in the US, particularly considering that, for all their penchant for catchy, memorable melodies, their music is far from pandering to any specific audience.
Some might say that the secret to Beach House’s memorable career is how consistent they are. They always come up in conversations on artists without a single bad album, and they have been critical darlings ever since they released their debut. Nonetheless, they also come up in conversations on artists who refuse to take huge risks – Beach House have mastered a sound of their own for more than a decade, so why change that? Even if there are certain differences between all their albums (for instance, “Teen Dream” is their poppiest, while “Depression Cherry” might be their noisiest), the fundamental gist of their songs remained: Victoria Legrand confidently delivering lovely yet sometimes uncanny melodies over guitar and keyboard arrangements that might as well have been sampled from a Cocteau Twins album.
That seems to be the underlying narrative in every review of Beach House’s seventh studio album, appropriately titled “7”: that Beach House are doing what they have always done, and that, as usual, it sounds great. While the latter part of that argument is certainly unarguable (“7” is one of the strongest LPs in Beach House’s career), the opening drum fill of the album’s first track “Dark Spring” alone mounts a strong argument against the former, its thumping bang resonating against those who claim that Beach House are afraid to take risks. Unlike most Beach House tracks, what makes “Dark Spring” so enticing from the very start is not its melody nor its moody vibe, but its off-kilter, hypnotizing rhythm section.
Beach House have reached the seven-album mark while avoiding missteps, sure, but they haven’t done so without changing who they are. Since “Bloom,” their songwriting has regressed quite noticeably, particularly when it comes to melody. They can no longer write (or they simply choose not to) songs as plainly memorable as “Take Care”, “Other People” or “Norway”, which is why their latest albums find them tampering with their trademark sound way more than ever before. It is precisely in that field where “7” succeeds in ways that “Depression Cherry” and “Thank Your Lucky Stars” didn’t; whereas their two 2015 releases were little more than solid, occasionally brilliant albums which shyly mixed things up for them, the latest long player from the Baltimore duo sees them becoming a new band without renouncing to their identity.
Its eleven songs boasting different arrangements and styles, “7” is their most varied album to date. From the Charlotte Gainsbourg-meets-Cocteau Twins charm of the French-sung “L’Inconnue” to “Last Ride”, the 7-minute epic that closes the album by paying tribute to The Jesus and Mary Chain, “7” documents Beach House’s newly-found love for constantly changing costumes. The latter even boasts what seems to be a shredding guitar solo, which is definitely uncharted territory for a band that used to find comfort in soothing, tranquil synths (to be fair, though, Victoria Legrand’s headbanging game has always been some next level shit). Even the tracks that align closer to what we might consider to be the classic Beach House sound trade in unfamiliarity at some level, like the acoustic guitar arpeggios that show up in “Lose Your Smile”, the shoegazey build-up in “Dive” or the riff-based structure of the wonderful “Pay No Mind”, which includes one of the best hooks in their entire oeuvre. Beach House have always been one of the few duos that actually sounded like they were a duo – you could easily picture Victoria Legrand and Alex Scully recreating the lush aura of their recordings in a live setting without much external help, but “7” is the first time that they have sounded like a legit band that can slide into the mud and jam like the best of them.
Even if “7” is their most sonically adventurous album to date, it is still fairly accessible. The undeniably catchy verses in “Lemon Glow” have a certain nursery rhyme feel to them, as if they were trying their best to make a dream-pop counterpart to Weezer’s “Mykel and Carli”, while “Drunk in L.A.” (arguably the less Beach House song title ever) is bound to be a 2018 playlist staple. “7” is nowhere near “Teen Dream” or “Bloom” in terms of straight songwriting, but it’s hardly an album that renounces its pop sensibilities in the search for a rejuvenating experimentalism. Is this the same old Beach House? It partly is, because it is as brilliant as almost everything they’ve done. But it also deviates from what might be expected from them, even if it retains the irresistible, spellbinding appeal that has been working for them over the past twelve years. Things change, and people get old, and bands break up or eventually put out shitty music. God bless Beach House for sticking only to the first two.