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Album Review: Beach House – 7

At the end of April, dream-pop duo Beach House took the stage in my hometown to kick off the tour behind their newest album 7. Before they headed to the stage, we heard a noise off-stage that carried over into the song they opened the show with, “Black Car.” It was a new track from the new album, the first time they played it live, and the first time I had ever heard it. Instantly, I was transfixed by the sounds that cloaked the room. Dark noises, live drums, and Victoria Legrand’s spectral vocals. Opening the show this way immediately set the tone for the rest of the night. For while the band trotted out plenty of old classics, the focus was on the atmosphere of the new sound of Beach House. The beauty of Beach House has always been in the atmosphere they craft. But while past albums have tended to fall into a realm laced with intimacy, the new songs go wide, with melodies that often sound like they’re reaching beyond Earth. “Black Car” is not likely to be a single on rotation for most, but its expertly concocted soundscape certainly lets you in on what the band want to be this time out. It’s a statement of intent, just like it was live. But the same could be said for almost every song on 7, which isn’t a knock on it at all. For this album sounds like nothing they’ve done before. And it’s completely thrilling.

Honestly, I have always been of the mind that Beach House could release virtually the same album every time and I would be immensely happy. Of course, as I went back through all of their albums again and again leading up to the release of 7 I realized they’ve never made the same album twice. Anyone that tells you all Beach House albums sound the same must not be listening very well. From their lo-fi debut through the massive-sounding Bloom, the band were constantly evolving. The follow-ups to Bloom (the back-to-back Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars) did scale things back down, but they still sounded like a new area for the band. 7 does continue in this change-oriented trajectory, but it immediately disarms you with just how wide they’ve swung with the changes this time. 

“Dark Spring” proves to be Beach House’s best opening track since “Zebra.” It starts off with a quick drum fill before effortlessly gliding into a spacey, shoegaze-inspired jam. At first listen, its energy sounds refreshing for a band who’ve trafficked a lot from small-moments. There are noticeable differences with the way the vocals are mixed too. Normally, I’d be shocked as to why anyone would want to bury Victoria Legrand’s vocals, but this track gets a lot of mileage at how cleanly they fit into the overall scope/sound. Her voice meshes into the big drums and gliterring synths so perfectly, you begin to realize how stark of an identity this new era of Beach House has. Things are gonna be different this time. But as it flawlessly transitions into “Pay No Mind,” you might ask “wait, are things gonna be different this time?” This song is definitely the most throwback of songs the LP, but it fits within the flow of the record beautifully. It has a more drone-like quality to it instrumentally, but Legrand’s vocals come back up in the mix here are carry a lot of the emotional weight. 

From there, things start to become more of a patchwork of atmospheric delights. “Lemon Glow” was the first taste of the new album way before it even had a title or release date. No matter how many times you heard it before, it still totally captivates. It’s sensual and sinister, gorgeously produced with a bobbing synth sound and screechy guitar. Lines like “when you turn the lights down low / lemon color, honey glow” and “candy colored misery / the color of mind” perfectly bookend to the dual nature of its sounds. “Drunk In LA” comes about halfway through the LP and works as the album’s centerpiece and biggest highlight. Every piece of sound is pure joy the ears as is Victoria’s delivery during the chorus. “I had a good run playing horses in my mind” and “I am loving losing life” are two of the best lyrics from the album because of how they are presented. This is a track that hits that darker sound Beach House strive for on this album, while at the same time sounding like its reaching up towards an unknown universe. 

The cinematic scope of the sound is the biggest draw of the album, with dense layers of tweaked soundbites that add up to an alarmingly full whole. A lot of this overall presentation sounds like the handiwork of Sonic Boom, who worked as a producer on this record. The band claim he was not necessarily a producer in the traditional sense, but his imprint is all over this thing. Despite not knowing precisely what he contributing, it’s easy to tell that his approach has rubbed off on the band in a big way. But make no mistake, this is still very much the project of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand. All of the elements that compose these 11 tracks contains bits they’ve toyed around with in the past. The distorted guitar sounds that pop in and out of songs like “Lemon Glow” or “Last Ride” recall the Depression Cherry highlight “Sparks.” The sprawling upbeat jam of “Woo” sounds like a Bloom-era song, but heightened to its fullest potential. And the halfway point of “L’Inconnue” with its programmed drum-sound easily throws it back to something off of Devotion, but again it’s just turned up enough to be different (we also get to finally hear Legrand pop off some lyrics in French). 

But perhaps a lot of what you can gleam from this album goes right back to “Black Car.” The track sits at the top of side 2 of the record, so it’d be difficult to call it a tone-setter. But the way in which it encapsulates a lot of what this album is saying and doing is clear after several listens. Its club-like production is intercut with these layerings of creepy sounds and mantra-like vocal lines, something the band have never quite pulled off before. But it’s deep within all of the components that make up this track where you can start to understand the intent of 7. This time around, Beach House are oscillating elegantly between leaning into what you feel like a Beach House song is and what you never expected a Beach House song to be. At points, it’s wildly energetic, like the straight up post-punk danciness of the climax of “Dive.” At other points, its keen to just shimmer with waves of hazy, dreamy sounds like on “Lose Your Smile.” But no matter what point of sound they are trying to bottle up, they succeed with peaks of layering melodies and noises that shoot across your ears like fireworks. 7 not only winds up being one of the most richly detailed Beach House albums, but also one of the most rewarding albums you’ll hear all year. 

4.8 out of 5.

 

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