The music dream pop duo Beach House has been crafting for over a decade now was never really ‘on the nose’, so to speak, its vague supposed vanity an expression of elegant subversion, not unlike a glamorous burlesque dancer on a film noir crime scene. Without ever revealing their songs’ intended messages, they imbue their œuvre with an unmatched visual quality, allowing the listener pull a myriad of individual meanings, visions, and impressions from each and every listening session.
Sounds and Images
What is it, then that 7, their latest and seventh overall offering, makes me see before my mind’s eye? A flurry of neon birds fluttering in the purple clouds before sunset perhaps, rain-kissed fields of strawberries in the middle of a long-forgotten desert, or old-school Hollywood celebrating itself and its beautiful people under a swirling pastel sun. Such are the album’s visual properties that I could, avec grand plaisir, go on and on with these phantasmal scenes and images it planted in my brain. Sadly, there are more pressing matters to be discussed, such as the actual music. Oh well.
A lone drum fill and boom, we’re thrown right into the mellow psychedelic billowing of “Dark Spring”. Sparkling keyboard touches drip off the steady background groove of the bass and drums like drops of condensed water on a cool can of pop, while Victoria Legrand’s vocals dance in the midst of the music, lost in celestial reveries. Around the 1:06 minute mark, an added guitar gives off the impression of two songs being layered on top of another, which I found to be a nice effect.
Being the amateur de la langue française that I am, how could I not mention “L’Inconnue” and its chorus sung entirely in French in this review? Beginning with Legrand harmonizing with herself in a choir-like fashion, the song demurely turns into a gloomy number with a ticking drum beat and almost baroque sound carpet crafted by the organ-like keyboards. Even aside from the eerie instrumentation and the imagery evoked in the familiarly mysterious lyrics (which again aren’t easy to interpret even for one who has sufficient command of the two languages employed), it’s the occasional dramatic background vocals that make this track a prime candidate for future use in horror movies, not to mention one of the more outlandish tracks in Beach House’s catalogue.
Changes made, lessons learned
In the run-up to the release of 7, the two have spoken in great length about the ways in which they tweaked their songwriting approach during the sessions for this album. Before, they mostly relied on their two main instruments, the guitar and the keyboard, to be featured in and make up for the bulk of their material, but this time around they allowed themselves the freedom to leave out or add elements in accordance to the needs of the individual song. Another key factor in this perceivable rejuvenation of their sound must’ve been the input of touring drummer James Barone, who plays on the entirety of 7, and producer Sonic Boom aka Peter Kember (ex-Spacemen 3).
The radiant “Drunk In LA” opens with a luxurious keyboard/synth pattern and what I believe to be the sound of ice cubes being put into a glass. Painting a picture of a lonely soul lost in the enticing and superficial LA lifestyle (at least that’s my take on the lyrics), it deliberately and enticingly lolls and sprawls in the listeners ears with its woozy tones.
As if all my previous talk about the music being visually evocative wasn’t enough, Legrand herself has admitted to ‘work[ing] very visually’, so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that track number ten, “Girl of the Year”, was inspired by the actual girl of the year 1965: Edie Sedgwick, who was known as one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. ‘I was very enamored with eyelashes and the use of the eyeliner and the smoke and the eyes’, Legrand said about how she drew inspiration from this particular famous, but ultimately tragic celebrity. Befitting the taste of tragedy in Sedgwick’s vita, the song contains one of my favorite lines on 7: ‘Get dressed to undress/Depressed to impress’. With its hypnotic, jubilant melodies and mournful undertones, the accompanying music aptly mirrors these sentiments.
New means to familiar ends
All things considered, 7 hardly poses a radical shift in Beach House’s career; it is much too close to the band’s regular aesthetic to qualify as such. What it does present, however, is the duo apparently rekindling the spark that gleamed but absently in their last few outings. While I must admit to being rather fond even of these more workmanlike recent releases, the fact that the changes Legrand and Scally made to their formula helped make 7 the best thing the duo have put their names to since 2012’s Bloom still stands.
Notable Tracks: “Pay No Mind”; “L’Inconnue”; “Girl of the Year”
FFO: Slowdive, Mazzy Star, Tame Impala