Well, we didn’t get the Cocteau Twins reunion we wanted. They were announced for Coachella 2005 but it never materialized. Latent band issues tend to flair up around reunions and they make for painful rollouts – see any article on the Smashing Pumpkins this year. But maybe we got something better. Since 2006, Beach House have been the sonic daughter and son of Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie – our British dream pop icons and perhaps Victoria and Alex are the reunion we always wanted. 7 proves that they are more.
Without a hint of numerology in our minds, we see seven’s everywhere. Seven is iconic in the Bible, and from Vegas slot machines to George Costanza’s Mickey Mantle inspired fictional child. Seven is in the rhythm of our very lives. We base our entire lives around the work rest rhythm of seven days. Always ones to shoot for the stars and then find out they were already living on one, Beach House’s new record 7, lives up to all the hype you can heap on it and more. 7 is massive and intimate, dense yet understandable, fresh yet classic.
Beach House has built their sound on refined repetition. Their lazy, dreamy sound has been processed, treated and cultured through each record like limestone levels in an ancient pyramid. Side to side you can hear the difference between 2006’s self-titled debut and 7, but it wasn’t apparent along the way. Their first three records showed noticeable improvement in breadth and purpose up until the band’s clear mission statement and possible peak – 2010’s Teen Dream. Whether you think that is their best record probably has more to do with which Beach House record you heard first than the actual quality, because like Bloom and Depression Cherry, its perfect. Oh and add 7 to that list as well.
The sonic progress wasn’t obvious as it seems until 2015’s surprise double release. Depression Cherry was the Beach House record that gave into all its pop dreams and Thank Your Lucky Stars was final destination of all the impulses that made Devotion so promising. Released only six weeks apart, it’s the indie equivalent of Beyonce’s self-titled surprise drop from 2013.
And they haven’t slowed down. In the last 40 months, Beach House has released as much music as they did in their first decade of existence. The vision of their sound expanding as rapidly as its excellence is manifest. Listening to Beach House is like waking up from a beautiful dream, trying to fall back asleep into it and succeeding. The decade plus of uniformity makes the slight movement on 7 all the more startling. Rushing into the studio as the songs were being born as opposed to recording them all together months after they had been written has brought a new sense of immediacy to the songs, specifically to Victoria’s voice.
Her vocal calling card is relaxed power and here you can hear more energy in syllables, more excitement in the takes that made the record than any Beach House record in their catalog. Of course, for Victoria, excitement is a barely perceptible nod.
Beach House’s sound has always been inherited and refined rather than created but the similarities are more apparent. “Dark Springs” starts out like M83 and finishes sounding like no one else than themselves. “Pay No Mind” takes cyclical cues from Air like Air took cues from Beach House on 2010’s Le Voyage Dans La Lune which featured Victoria herself. First single “Lemon Glow” is built on a drone but also on sampled, repetitive synth and guitar echoes. “L’Inconnue” opens with Julianna Barwick echoes mixed with Gregorian Chant tones, then adds in Ratatat guitars and ultimately sounds more like a descendant of Serge Gainsbourg than the 80’s.
That’s not all. “Last Ride” has an Aphex Twin sounding piano and several tracks echo the vocal style of Bilinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine. “Black Car”, probably the freshest track here, plays on an electronic level, not an organic level, like all their songs we have loved. Never has a Beach House record had less rounded corners, and none of this makes the record weaker. Rather, the band has refused to cook this all into a massive stew and given us a taste of all the ingredients that went in.
The lyrical content is the continued narrative of veiled meditations on presence and progress. On “Girl of the Year” Victoria criticizes, “Get dressed to undress / Depressed to impress / All night long.” On “Black Car” she depressingly tells, “I skipped a rock and it fell to the bottom.” The inevitability and sleeplessness make for one of their darkest tracks lyrically and musically.
But also seeming references to their own discography. On “Drunk in LA” Victoria sings, “I had a good run playing horses in my mind, left my heart out somewhere running, wanting strangers to be mine”. Referencing “Zebra”? Or maybe not. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. The lyrics are fuzzy snapshots on purpose. Why not leave them that way? Although the translation of the French portion of “L’Inconnue” does shine a light on the whole record. It says
All the girls are not ready
To the church and to the Seine
All their hearts and all their sorrow
Little angel and the unknown
Holy, the whore and the ingenuous
All the girls are not ready”
At her best, Victoria’s lyrics work equally well sung as read like poetry. 7 is no exception.
Never ones to stare at the floor, like the shoegazers who cooked up the ingredients that Beach House use to create, Victoria tends to stare out at the horizon during their coveted sunset sets at festivals around the world. The subtle shifts and movements on 7, show how special the sound they have truly is. The number seven is often a device of beginnings, as long as 7 isn’t an ending, I’m happy. A