Review Summary: Elegy to the void
Without starting a fight, i'd like to state the obvious: Beach House albums have always seemed to operate on a formula. They're a band of big gestures and tiny details, and I hardly see this as a bad thing; it's a formula of internalized logic and fine calibration, where you search out the almost imperceptible pivot of a moment, of a mood
. Labelled as mood music as though it's an insult, Beach House set their eye on the horizon, towards a place as far-reaching and unknowable as any feeling, beginning their albums with a moment of pristine and precise catharsis and then spending the rest of their time spinning on the axis they've created, trying their damnedest to conjure the release they believe has freed them. While this may sound like a backhanded compliment, it's more complicated than that, and this is a band that's always been more fully-realized and complicated than they've at times gotten credit for. Their albums seem to exist in a hall of mirrors that require listener participation: they open with a grand curtain drop, presenting infinite possibilities, and then leave the destination up to the listener, all depending on where you decide to train your eye, what you see on, beyond, and underneath the surface.
All this throat clearing preface to highlight two simple things. First, yes, you're allowed to hate this band, but to dismiss them is something else entirely, as they're a unit who thrive on sleight of hand, of tricking you into doing your own mental and emotional heavy lifting before the smoke has even cleared. To dismiss them is almost beside the point, as Beach House are plenty glad to welcome you in and then dismiss themselves as you grope around in the fog. Secondly, to finally get on with the act of actually reviewing this album, 7
is so utterly thrilling for the ways that it subverts this formula entirely, on paper playing like a Beach House album in reverse as it instantly plummets you into its haze, containing more heat and force than ever before as it holds your head in the muck before ending with a resplendent exhale. More than ever, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally shape noise into jagged monoliths, interrupting your daydreaming with punchy drums and violent guitar squall, circling a hefty void that swallows up buoyant melodies and bouncy synths and spits it out as something dangerous and murky scraping against the inside of your eardrums.
Fuzz consumes and contorts familiar Beach House hallmarks at almost every turn, so that something like 'Pay No Mind' with its placid lullaby chorus and flourish of blushing guitar upstrokes is pitched at an uncharacteristically gripping uphill battle against craggy static, ending in a not quite resolved miasma of suspended drums and cooing sighs. Other songs that push further into this darker fervor are even more enthralling. 'Lemon Glow' begins with what sounds like a drone of notes falling down a set of stairs before being joined with abyssal synth pings and searing waves of guitar. Album (and possibly career) best 'L'Inconnue' opens in media res with a swarming choir of Legrand vocals and folds in angelic but juttering drone, swooning gushes of guitar noise, and cavernous whistles and then falls out completely, leaving the vocalist suspended in mid-air as she ominously intones in French about the number 7 and various connotations for the number: 7 girls, 7 as a holy number, 7 as a time of coming of age. It's alternately the most darkly atmospheric and straight-ahead freaky tune the band has put to tape, and it's a true showstopper.
The album is by no means front-loaded either; the foreboding and tactile chiming of 'Black Car' bides its time before reaching a gloomily ringing chorus of sparring voices, and 'Woo' might just be the most successful marriage of old and new, riding a gauzy groove that houses delicately tuneful singing and a fun as hell primal yell of "Woo!" buried beneath layers of thick keyboard plunks and fuzz. Of course, as stated before, the main attraction for the latter half is closer 'Last Ride', operating much like any previous Beach House album opener would in presenting a desired destination and achieving liftoff towards that target. Lonely piano and sky scraping organ accompany Legrand as she sings, "There she goes
", and you hardly have time to wonder where before ascendant hums, gently rushing strums and an echoing cymbal clash point towards something above the art-horror noise/dream pop that's preceded for the first time in the entirety of 7
. This all continues to slowly build, getting faster and picking up steam, until a heart-tugging guitar solo of sorts from Scally bleeds through, elevating the song to a stunning and emotional plateau. It succeeds better than anything the band have written before in transporting you to a different place, and where you and the band go from here is anybody's guess, but you can continue to count on them to help you find it.