Sublime beauty, terror in Beach House’s new album ‘7’

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Grade: 5.0/5.0

Listening to 7 casually feels wrong. A dreamlike, psychedelic study in contradictions, addressing beauty and terror, the expansive and the miniscule, everything and nothing at the same time, Beach House’s most recent full-length album demands the listener’s complete attention. The album brings to mind my uncle’s accounts of listening to Pink Floyd as a teenager with headphones in a dark room in order to adequately appreciate each chord progression and lyric.

On 7, Beach House members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally provide the same blurry poetics amid soft keyboard and guitar that has garnered the band its considerable fan base thus far. And as with every Beach House album since the band’s self-titled debut in 2006, on 7 the pair has continued to develop the band’s musical persona in new and exciting ways. Legrand and Scally explained in an online statement that 7 aims at “rebirth and rejuvenation.” The pair hopes to “rethink old methods and shed some self-imposed limitations.” As such, Legrand and Scally opted to follow their musical intuitions, forgoing an official producer and not limiting themselves to songs that can be easily recreated live. The result is an album fiercest in terms of its delicateness, its subtleties and its lack of boundaries — a true work of art.

Even the work’s collage-like album cover adds to the artistry of the compilation, offering a glimpse into the overriding thematic elements of 7. Its subtle gray tones, for instance, speak to the blurred and dreamlike quality of many of the song’s sounds, a common feature of the duo’s work that Beach House executes particularly well here. Moreover, just as the cover brings together pieces of different magazines to create a single coherent image, the album seamlessly transports the listener between disjointed snippets of vivid imagery and more tangible yearnings and storylines.

“Dark Spring,” the opening track of the album, illustrates especially poignantly Beach House’s ability to create a sense of place by way of simple description. More sighing than singing, Legrand and Scally guide the listener through a series of blunt sensory images — “Cold gone glowing / Night sing” — that, paired with the pair’s ethereal instrumentals, amalgamate in a slightly eerie yet hypnotic first number.

Later, one of the most chillingly beautiful songs on the album, “Drunk In LA,” demonstrates Beach House’s prowess in working with the narrative form in music. Written in the first person, the piece gives voice to a fictional character of the pair’s own creation — “an old starlet sitting in a bar in the dark by herself,” as Legrand noted in an interview with Pitchfork. In the song, the band explores yet another contradiction: the simultaneous beauty of gaining wisdom with age paired with the tribulations of getting older. “Memory’s a sacred meat / That’s drying all the time / On a hillside I remember / I am loving losing life,” the actress croons in Legrand’s voice. It’s one of those lines that inspires goosebumps and echoes in your mind days later.

Overall, the wonder of 7 pays testament to Beach House’s choice to step off the beaten road and work especially hard to create content that feels authentic to them. Such efforts shine through in the poignancy and genius evident not only in each individual song, but in the album as a whole.

At the same time, however, the album touches on some enormous and terrifying questions, questions of mortality and love and purpose, which may make some listeners wary of it. Yet for the artists themselves, from this complexity emerges a sort of divine simplicity: “You don’t get to control how much darkness or light exists in the universe, they’re inherently part of the fabric of everything,” stated Legrand in the aforementioned interview with Pitchfork. “But we all need art and dancing and joy. … I see no better way to be spending life on the planet than to be playing with things in your life. You have to do something, and our doing is making music.”

Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].