Few bands in the modern era are as definitive to a particular sound and style as Beach House. The Baltimore duo, comprised of vocalist and keyboardist Victoria LeGrand and guitarist Alex Scally, has captured the hearts of indie music fans with their lush, ethereal soundscapes since the mid 2000s. Their first two records introduced them as a young but musically ambitious tandem with a lo-fi, translucent aesthetic. Subsequent albums, Teen Dream and Bloom, catapulted their sound to intoxicating new heights, establishing them as one of the most dynamic acts in their genre.
Their last two projects, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars (released months apart in 2015), faltered on delivering the same excitement as previous efforts, but still offered a number of compelling songs and performances. Three years removed from their last full length LP, it appeared to some that LeGrand and Scally had run out of things to say, still touring but showing no signs of any new music being released in the immediate future.
Silence was broken in February with the release of a new single, “Lemon Glow” – a drony, melodic cut that would serve as the first single from a forthcoming album. The track features dense, richly layered vocals, recited enchantingly in typical Victoria LeGrand fashion, and a slow-building mirage of drum machine, organ and fuzzed out electric guitar. Though very much rooted in the band’s signature style, the song’s hypnotic yet destructive nature is largely indicative of their new album’s sonic direction.
The new record, appropriately titled 7 as Beach House’s seventh studio release, climbs on the shoulders of the duo’s dream-pop foundations and aims to set foot on new turf, borrowing from the adjacent genres of shoegaze and psychedelia noticeably more than before. “On 7, we decided to follow whatever came naturally,” the band stated on the SubPop website prior to the album’s release. “Basically, we let our creative moods, instead of instrumentation, dictate the album’s feel.” It’s a bold and exciting statement, one that will be appreciated by both their diehard fans and casual listeners.
7 kicks off with “Dark Spring,” an intense track featuring aggressive percussion and pulsating guitars. Musically, it’s as pressing as Beach House has ever sounded. It seamlessly transitions into the following track, “Pay No Mind,” a slow-burning love song produced with dreamy arrangements. Unlike many of their classic cuts from the past, the song welcomes prominent undertones of distortion and accents of acoustic guitar. Vocally, Victoria steps down from her usually otherworldly pedestal to sing a spell of beauty and mutual growth. She hardly sounds human here, but still extremely seductive.
The experimentation pushes forward on “L’Inconnue,” a French-inspired chant that feels gargantuan at times, thanks to waning guitars and opera-style vocal backings. It’s one of a few songs on 7 that can still easily be grouped under Beach House’s traditional dream-pop classification. The same can be said for “Drunk In LA,” which is masterfully produced, but never unleashes from the tension it builds up.
The suspense is released in full force on “Dive,” the climax of the record, which also serves as a divider for the slower moments on each end of the album. After drifting back into hazy euphoria on “Lose Your Smile,” 7 returns to the abstract and unknown with drugged out, teetering rhythms on “Black Car,” undoubtedly the weirdest song on the record. LeGrand again sings refrains in eerie, thick whispers, matching the supernatural sensations created by the drums.
Even though it constantly blends shoegaze and other alternative rock elements, 7 is still very much a dream-pop album; “Pay No Mind” and “Woo” rank among the band’s more charming and spacey pop tunes in the last few years. Where this record elevated itself over the past two projects is in overall composition. The production feels as rich and multilayered as on Bloom or Depression Cherry, but it possesses an inventiveness and a loose spirit that looks as if its signaling a new beginning.
Just as LeGrand and Scally proclaimed, the music on 7 feels free and unrestricted. Intuitive and less formulaic. Their creative process was visibly more instinctive than it was calculated. The end result is consistently enthralling and opens up the possibility for more great Beach House records in the future.