Beach House, the dream pop band consisting of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, are back with their seventh full-length album, aptly titled 7. While an established band in the indie rock scene, their songs Gila and Master of None were famously sampled by The Weeknd’s in his mixtape House of Balloons. Though they have numerous critically acclaimed albums under their belt, Beach House have been criticised for ‘sounding the same’ throughout their careers – in response, they wrote an open letter declaring a rebirth of the band and released Lemon Glow, featuring loud, fuzzy guitars. They have hinted at a new sound before, particularly with the shoegaze of lead single Sparks on Depression Cherry, but on this occasion, Beach House attempt to deliver in full.
7 sets expectations high, beginning like shoegaze classic Loveless with a torrent of sound. Like Loveless’s opener Only Shallow, Dark Spring starts the album as one of the most lively, exciting songs that Beach House have done to date, with a propulsive drum beat and a chorus with synths dissonant to the guitars, completed by contemplative lyrics on the stars, opening with, “Dark red light years brought near.” Where it differs from Loveless, however, is that no other song except the psychedelic single Dive matches the intensity shown on Dark Spring. In fact, many of the songs on 7 are only small deviations for the band. Lead single Lemon Glow and Pay No Mind bridge the gap between their previous albums and 7, adding prominent guitars to their dream pop formula. Pay No Mind is a song made for slow dancing, comparable to the warmth of Slowdive.
L’Inconnue, marks the first time Victoria sings in French (the song title means ‘The Unknown’). The layered vocals of its intro promise much, but it barely develops, and in the end its choral vocals are its only defining quality. Contrastingly, a lyrical standout is Drunk in LA, thematically sung from the point of view of a washed-up celebrity. With its prominent synths, it sounds like something off Teen Dream, yet near the song’s end, everything dissolves into a hazy guitar solo.
The second half of the record is some of their most accessible material to date. Lose Your Smile is a soft rock guitar ballad resembling early Coldplay with the dripping distortion of Galaxie 500. Woo and Girl of the Year are the highlights of the album; Woo sounds like a song that would fit on the Twin Peaks soundtrack with its 80s pop vibe and array of vocals (samples, ‘woo’s, and background vocals), and Girl of the Year is classic Beach House, with synths and drums that recall the beauty of Bloom. On the other hand, 7’s closer, Last Ride, begins with a minute of piano that builds slowly, mirroring the sunrise mentioned in the lyrics, but the last minute is overindulgent with its droning guitar, which unfortunately is the closest the second half of the album gets to resembling shoegaze. Black Car is the most experimental song Beach House have done yet, drawing from house and R&B music. It’s an enigma and is already proving to be divisive.
Beauty can be found all over 7, and its warmth makes up for what Thank Your Lucky Stars lacked. However, the album’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness – 7 is still easily recognisable as a Beach House record, and the singles prove to be the most experimental the album gets. The distorted guitars make it a more exciting and fresh listen than any Beach House record since Bloom, but it highlights that this artistic growth should be occurring every album, not once every ten years. As a Beach House record for Beach House fans, it is stellar. For Beach House detractors, it still plays too safe. But it’s Beach House doing what they do best, making dreamy music worthy of the Cocteau Twins.