Beach House have one of the most fitting names of any band in the world. Their chilled and washed out brand of dream pop invariably invokes summer’s sense of infinite calm and satisfaction that comes with sun and sea. But the Baltimore duo has always had an air of melancholy that seeps into the haze of Victoria Legrand’s emotive melodies and the shimmering guitar lines of Alex Scally. This is the beach house that’s left empty as fall gently sweeps in, the skies slowly grey and the beaches are abandoned for the ebb of life’s monotony; before stoically standing lonely and cold through the long months of winter. It’s a name that couldn’t have been better selected; a perfect summation of the duality of the band’s sound and feelings they conjure. It’s been the steadfast facet of Beach House’ over their evolution, and remains with this, their eponymous seventh studio album, even as it bravely surges into territory not yet explored.
It’s a far too easy leap to describe any given Beach House as derivative, especially of their own work. They have a sound and formula that is distinctly theirs and it pours into each song with a surety that many would describe as safety or timidity. But each and every album has been inflected with undeniable progress and 7 is no different, to the point of it flirting with namesake genre of progressiveness. There are unmistakable elements of ‘prog’ and shoegaze here – throwbacks to the burgeoning periods of those associated sounds – even as it pays clear homage to the bands who paved the way for the more direct dream-pop sound Beach House have become giants of in their own right. The result is a record that, rather than simply continuing to ride the wave of dreamy effects-laden 80s nostalgia that has swelled in recent years, sees the duo plot and navigate a course of their own.
Even if Beach House’s success has owed much to early pioneers of the dream pop movement, their influence has never been more felt in the band’s music than it is here. While the essence of Cocteau Twins infuses everything, it’s Dean Wareham and his work with Galaxie 500 that is clearly felt in the stripped back steady strum and lagging melody of ‘Pay No Mind’. “Baby at night when I look at you, nothing in this world keeps me confused”, Legrand professes gently, her vocals uncharacteristically clear as Scally’s plodding guitar finds itself in a rare space of vulnerability without its wall of reverb to keep it company.
At other times – as lazy as the comparison may appear – they more resemble the likes of Slowdive; awash in a haze of swirling guitars and momentum as in the driving pulse and rippling guitar line that shifts the exceptional ‘Dive’ away from its humble beginnings in scintillating fashion. Yet other times there are elements of early M83 or My Bloody Valentine, walls of sound being carefully constructed before crashing down on you as in the album’s opening drum fills and pop sensitivities of ‘Dark Spring’ or the gorgeous steady build of choral synth arrangements and searing guitar that is closer ‘Last Ride’.
But ultimately, and most importantly, Beach House retain the essence that makes them unique throughout 7. Their characteristic ethereal beauty remains in earnest in the likes of ‘Drunk in L.A.’ and ‘Woo’, even as their structures and ideas shift to adventurous frontiers. The songwriting may not always have the effortless distinction that made the likes of ‘Teen Dream’ or ‘Bloom’ so infectious, but these are some of the band’s richest and most carefully constructed songs of their career – never more fully realized than in the absolutely gorgeous ‘L’Inconnue’.
Fittingly translating to ‘The Unknown’, Paris-born Legrand sings a range of repeated chants – almost mantra-like – in both English and her native French, the looped lines building around each other and merging with the subtleties of Scally’s guitar work. It emerges slowly and with care, blooming into a vibrant canopy of divine choral loops and waves of synthesizers. It’s a perfect summation of where their latest album has brought Beach House. They have mastered their tried and true formula to the point where they can transcend it with boldness. The result is a beautiful album that cements Beach House as worthy of the contemporaries they draw on with such reverence.