Album Review: Beach House – 7


If their self-crafted press release is anything to go by, Beach House’s new album is the essence of serendipity.

Their seventh release in thirteen years, with it Baltimorean duo Victoria Le Grand and Alex Scally have now completed a cycle of seventy-seven songs across that dream-laden span, a haze which can trace its origins all the way back to Julee Cruise springing the elfin Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart on an unsuspecting world almost thirty years ago.

Whilst that’s probably being simplistic, the pair’s words do admit that up until 7 they’ve had an unconsciously formulaic way of working, sticking to writing songs that they were confident could be reproduced live, and working on limited budgets and compacted studio time with all the attendant compromises that pressure often brings.

This time things were/are different; rather than be boxed in by any of their self limiting beliefs, they laid down tracks in a home studio, relishing the space whilst the question of making a consideration of whether this new work could be played onstage was banished to the margins. “As a result,” they claim somewhat matter-of-factly, “there are some songs with no guitar, and some without keyboard.”

Not exactly revolutionary in many universes outside of their own, but for Beach House small changes can lead to a disproportionately mutated final product: gone, for instance, is the latent-country/gospel of their last outing Depression Cherry, replaced with a less focused whirl of spontaneity. Opener Dark Spring emphasises this contagion of fuzz, LeGrand’s vocals blissed out as ever but this time distorted as if being heard through a fog, her often joked about Little Red Riding Hood affectations finally having found their wolf.

Maybe part of this dissolving of the grain is down to the pervasive influence of veteran scuzz merchant Peter ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember (“a great force on this record”), but more latently they claim the febrile vibe is proper to the “societal insanity” of the last few years.

Much of 7’s characterisation stems from its mood swings, embodied by the smoky embers of Black Car, or Woo’s early morning glint. At a guess, this bipolarity is down to a creative process which entailed simply letting go and falling back into the abyss, a sensation which makes Last Ride less calculated than it seems, an unfiltered journey that lurches towards either joy or despair – “When you’re loving most at night/And I love you back/When the sun rises, I–/Who will call you back?” – or both.

Perhaps the relatively large amount of background information that comes with 7 is a distraction, altering the observation point from the slightly voyeuristic position that LaGrande and Scully’s music is usually consumed. At a purely superficial level they’re still great after all, as the perfect synth loops definitively make the bad stuff go away, or on Lose Your Smile in its recollection of a slightly more wasted Sarah Cracknell, or the Europhile art-trips of Stereolab.

Certainly, its apex is one of those songs which reeks of transposition, as on the sluggish bliss of Drunk In LA you wished you were somewhere in Highland Park staring over the top of a Mai Tai at a stranger and their intriguing jawline, whispering about love, the moon and soft sidewalk blues.

Little things. Angles that are a fraction off. The split-second delays that lead to missed opportunities and casual encounters of the dangerously unplanned kind. Beach House haven’t always been about that but 7 is, a record which takes you to the room next to the one you planned to visit, a hallucination about a fantasy about a wish that came true.

Which for now is just where they want you to be.

(Andy Peterson)

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