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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beach House: 7

BEACH HOUSE: 7 (2018)

1) Dark Spring; 2) Pay No Mind; 3) Lemon Glow; 4) LʼInconnue; 5) Drunk In LA; 6) Dive; 7) Black Car; 8) Lose Your Smile; 9) Woo; 10) Girl Of The Year; 11) Last Ride.

General verdict: Making cosmetic adjustments to oneʼs sonic formula at the expense of hooks and original musical ideas is typically not a very good plan... but perhaps in 2018 itʼs the only plan that could work anyway.

The more it changes, the more it stays Beach House. Having previously released their B-Sides And Rarities as a separate album, Legrand and Scally stated that they were done "cleaning out the closet" and hinted at a new direction with their next project. It is safe to assume that nobody really expected them to move on to polkacore or vapormetal, but if change we must, then even the most minimal deviations from the established formula would inevitably end up in the very center of critical discussion. And indeed, be prepared to hear from a lot of different sides about how the duo has evolved, how they are taking risks, how they are moving outside established boundaries — in short, paraphrasing Dylan, "itʼs not Beach House, itʼs Beach Home!"

They even changed their producer, moving from long-term partner Chris Coady to Sonic Boom (Peter Kember) of Spacemen 3 fame; since the latter seems to be somewhat more versatile in the world of digital sound than the former, one could possibly expect more electronic textures, and, indeed, a few of the tracks are quite nastily splattered with the ubiquitous «church organ in your pocket» synth tones of the 2010s that mainstream and indie artists seem to love just about the same. That is, however, not a problem in itself. The problem is that, while I, like everybody else, can clearly see a desire to evolve here, I wish to God it was never present.

7 features a denser, heavier sound than all their earlier records — ʽDark Springʼ opens things with a full-on heavy drum roll, something that would be unimaginable in the early days, and the track is so bass-heavy that with but a few extra production tweaks, it could have become rock, something in the vein of British Sea Power or even Arcade Fire. Because of the icy restraint of the players and of Victoriaʼs predictably somnambulant vocals, it does not quite get to that level, but the damage has been done: ʽDark Springʼ is less magical and moody than classic Beach House stuff, but it does not compensate for this with rocking energy or dynamic instrumental passages. It also does not have even a single memorable hook: Legrand recites, rather than truly sings, the lyrics in a tired-sounding, monotonous manner, accompanied by a generic minimalist indie chord pattern — and at the end, Scally lets rip with an equally minimalist solo that sounds exactly like the average stuff on any given British Sea Power album.

My major disappointment in the album are the vocals. I do not know if Victoria happened to lose all her higher range or if this was intentional, but pretty much all the album is delivered at a single frequency, in a single mood, regardless of the tonality, tempo, or mood of the music. The difference between verses and choruses has been nullified by this approach, and with it, the only hope for me to memorize some of the songs (and yes, I still remember ʽZebraʼ and ʽUsed To Beʼ with their lovely dream-pop curvatures). But then the music, too, has become substantially less interesting: they may have changed the producer, added more drums ʼnʼ bass, but arguably the only time where the record tries to offer something out-of-the-ordinary is on ʽBlack Carʼ, which has a funny looped arpeggiated chiming pattern all over the place — in no way original (I think they end up sounding like the great late Broadcast that way), but at least temporarily pulling my attention out of the solid slumber state.

Also, after a few listens ʽDrunk In LAʼ suddenly emerged as the most disturbed and desperate song on the album, almost a cry for help — well, as much of a cry for help as you could expect from somebody frozen in liquid nitrogen. Maybe if they really took a serious risk and dared to break that musical ice, instead of solidifying it even further with all the new (old) keyboard tones, the song could have struck a genuine emotional chord. As it is, welcome to yet another teensy-weensy little deviation from the formula. For the same reason, I cannot fall head over heels in love with the «bold» transition from quiet dream-pop to loud arena-pop in the middle of ʽDiveʼ: the first half is too lulling and hookless — the second half sounds like somebody, well, totally half-assing it. If I want that kind of sound done properly, I will go to Arcade Fire. Otherwise, guys, just do what you do best — except that you seem to have sort of forgotten what it is.

With no desire whatsoever to talk about the other songs (if you have heard one, you pretty well have a good idea about them all), I will simply sum up that Beach House certainly stay true to their general conception and spirit on the album, and that their arduous task at upholding their «AC/DC of dream pop» reputation goes on unhindered (maybe Sonic Boom should be considered their personal ʽMuttʼ Lange, bringing their music into the next era of sound while at the same time making sure that nothing essential has changed). But the fact that these days it only takes a few tiny production tweaks to make critical opinion go "woo-wee, best album ever since their previous best album ever!" is funny — and depressing.

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