Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand, the duo who make up the musical entity Beach House have always been known for their singular independence. They seem unaffected by the whims and crotchets of the musical world or some might even say the world in general. In numerous ways, their latest release, “7”, represents their departure from the expected. Released on May 11th, “7” is the follow up to the magnificent trio of releases spanning from 2016 -2017, “Depression Cherry, Count Your Lucky Stars” and a final housecleaning of that era’s creations with “B-sides and Rarities”. On “7” Beach House turns their approach to recording on its head, going from microscopic introspection into broader more worldly themes while tossed their self-imposed musical boundaries to the wind. What results is a sprawling journey filled with energy and excitement. They successfully shake off the compliance that can infect bands by their seventh studio album without losing the essence of what has to make Beach House so singularly brilliant.
This time around Beach House’s Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand set rebirth and rejuvenation as their goals. Widening their approach the pair recorded not only in their storied home studio in Baltimore, MD, but also at The Carriage House in Stamford, CT and Palmetto Studio in L.A. Another changeup was the departure of longtime producer and collaborator Chris Coady, who has been with the band since Bloom, and opting instead to work with producer Peter Kember, AKA Sonic Boom. 7 was recorded over an 11 month period, which again was a departure from the band’s speedier production timelines on prior releases. Instead of their familiar routine of one long recording session, the duo created songs in batches as they were inspired with a total of 5 mini sessions. In those sessions Scally and Legrand would toss out many of their typical approaches in creating their songs; they disregarded their concerns about being able to deliver songs that could translate to live performance. Instead, they allowed for the songs to be loaded with layers of production with little chance of being perfectly replicated live. Their choice allowed for the mood of the emerging songs to dictate the final product rather than placing limitations on the tracks.
The pair tapped into new sources for the themes to their songs which contain a nuanced mix of; societal insecurity, gender issues, numerological meanings, the chaos of our world and how little control we have as individuals. Informing these topics were the ideas of beauty that arises from dealing with the darkness in our selves and the world, examining empathy that grows out of collective traumas and the idea of describing the place one reaches when they accept rather than deny. Like any Beach House recording, the resulting thematic effort is an extremely deep undertaking that can be likened to Kierkegaard set to music.
7 begins with Dark Spring and shockingly a cacophony of drums, provided by James Barone, along with an insistent presence. In a few notes, the listener knows they have left the era of Depression Cherry behind and begun another journey through Scally and Legrand’s musical brilliance. The trademark elements fans have grown to love still remain, Legrand’s expressive vocals and the exceptional attention paid to sonic details, but added is a new energy and insistence. The guitars and drums emerge from the background and make for a satisfying juxtapositioning. I find Dark Spring a perfect accompaniment to what has been an absolutely bizarre spring weather pattern here on the East Coast of the US. Pay No Mind continues to deliver an interesting twist on all that Beach House has done in the past informed by their new approach. Here is found a brooding heavy throbbing instrumentation with a gritty guitar. The song has a pulled around feeling of being on Klonopin while perceiving the world, not unpleasant but slightly disturbing. The theme is the ability to turn to a loved one to deliver the individual from the slings and arrows of the world. Lemon Glow reminds me of “Sparks” with additional energy and punch. This song displays the new direction the pair is going towards without leaving behind all that has been so wonderful about Beach House. Featured is what truly makes the track an easily identifiable Beach House song, Legrand’s instantly recognizable vocals. What is striking about Lemon Glow is how the extremely nuanced blending of the accompaniment totally serves the song.
The treatment on L Inconnue is something to experience. I love the Gregorian chant inspiration with gloriously stacked vocals. The song projects an otherworldliness that is alluring, and just as you are lulled into the mesmerizing hold of the track it shifts tempo and bursting into a panoply of wider atmospherics. That mood is altered once again on Drunk in LA a possible Roman A Clef about the madness of LA. Legrand’s vocal presentation, hat tip to Nico, relays all the emotional disconnect of being alone in a crowd. The haunting dissonance is reflected perfectly in the sonics allowing the listener to buy into the emotional isolation of the track.
Dive was one of the first pre-release singles and aptly built anticipation for the release. It is a testament to what the pair has moved onto but again retains the trademarks of Beach House’s works. There are blaring synths and throbbing bass lines that entice and a sunlit vocal tethered to a rather sinister underbelly, half the way through the track morphs into a dance track with galloping rhythms getting even better as it almost goes 80’s Goth, think The Cure. The song is quite addictive and demands repeated listens becoming more of an earworm with each pass.
My absolute favourite on the album is Black Car which begins with a pixilated electric piano and heartbeat percussion and proceeds to just slather on the layers. Legrand and Scally build a fantastic moodscape that is easy to get lost amidst. Shared is a certain universal feeling of bittersweet melancholy like a midnight walk home in the drizzle with the neon lights reflecting in the puddles.
I found the latter half of the release more in keeping with Beach House’s prior works. Lose Your Smile was the most reminiscent of the Depression Cherry era. The track Woo contains all the trademarks found in the Beach House wheelhouse with added emphasis on feminist themes and a very 80’s intro thrown into the mix. Girl of the Year also contains a feminist vibe and is loaded with effortless, they can do this all day, dream pop Beach House is so very expert at creating. The final song Last Ride is the longest track timing in at 7 minutes but what a closer. It is a scintillating panoramic dreamscape. This ride through the subconscious spirals and builds drama. The song showcases the inherent beauty that exists in Beach House’s music. The track wafts off into infinity bring a close to another wondrous creation by Beach House.
With 7 Beach House continues to remain indefinable. They present the intimate as panoramic and make the large external world small. This is done effortlessly like some kind of Alice in Wonderland as they oscillate from small to large often within a song. Legrand’s vocals have always been magnificent and on 7 she morphs into any manifestation needed whereby truly becoming a beguiling songstress. Throughout the change both she and Scally have enacted, they retain their ability to present a cinematic feeling to the music; fading in and out, dissolving, superimposing layers and delivering abrupt cuts all the while retaining their sensory impact. As always they deliver a transcendent connection to emotions in an almost impressionistic manner. To get Beach House it has always been necessary to fully submit yourself to the experience, going where they lead. The duo this time around by stressing more easily identifiable elements like percussion and guitars has increased their approachability and energy. Those elements create the initial gateway that leads into deeper waters drawing listeners further into their current experiment in sound. 7 is a departure from what we have come to expect from Beach House but remains completely recognizable as Beach House.