Beach House have already carved out their spot in music history. For over a decade, the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally has served as a guiding light for dream pop, paving the way for a genre that has permeated rock far more than it is given credit for. Their latest album “7” builds upon Beach House’s legacy as one of the best modern dream pop groups out there while displaying its influences more explicitly than any of the group’s earlier works. The result is one of the most comprehensive works of dream pop in the genre’s nearly 30-year lifespan.
Indeed, it’s been nearly three decades since a flurry of dream pop originators kicked off the 1990s. Cocteau Twins released their chiming record “Heaven Or Las Vegas,” My Bloody Valentine changed rock with their wall of sound “Loveless” and Hope Sandoval hypnotized the world with Mazzy Star’s lovesick dreamscape “Fade Into You.” The ripples of these works were evident throughout the 1990s, resurfacing over the past decade with the lo-fi minimalism of The xx, the neo-psychedelia of Tame Impala and the synth grandeur of M83. And while these newer groups have felt more like offshoots of the genre, Beach House have remained at the center of dream pop’s revival. Their sleepy early works were instrumental in bringing the genre back as something more than just a vehicle for nostalgia, and the livelier “Teen Dream” and “Bloom” cemented their role as architects of modern dream pop.
Following two solid but fairly repetitive releases in 2015, Beach House have returned with a well-needed shift. “7” tries to do a lot. It marks the first time the duo has put its influences directly on display, and it’s the duo’s darkest and edgiest work to date.
With so much going on here, it’s best to start at the beginning. “Dark Spring” finds Beach House engaging with shoegaze, its heavy distortion and layered, whispered vocals directly recalling My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. This track leads right into “Pay No Mind,” one of the more traditionally “Beach House” songs on the record, and “Lemon Glow,” the album’s lead single. The latter is an exciting detour into trip-hop that retains Beach House’s signature psychedelia. It’s this balance of bold exploration and familiarity that makes “Lemon Glow” so great and so deserving of its lead single status.
“L’Inconnue” and “Drunk In LA,” backed by artificial synth choirs, introduce a dark twist on the immersive quality of Beach House’s catalog. Specifically, “Drunk In LA” evokes imagery of the isolating quality of selfie and spotlight culture as Legrand sings about “skinny angels making eyes at cameras perched in every room.” The synths morph into a blurry imitation of an orchestra on “Dive,” giving the song a sort of old-time film aura that builds to a dramatic climax. Here is a wonderful display of Alex Scally’s matured guitar work, reminiscent of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.”
Fourth single “Black Car” is ominously trippy, repeating the same haunting keyboard riff as the intensity builds layer by layer. “Lose Your Smile” continues the psychedelia in a more uplifting way as Scally strums his acoustic guitar and electronic beeps echo, recalling “Space Oddity” and the Flaming Lips. “Woo” and “Girl Of The Year” are even more joyful, adding to the album’s emotional arc and providing some sonic familiarity to long time Beach House fans. Finally, the album closes with the tender piano ballad “Last Ride,” an almost perfect blend of the the end of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Adore” and “Slowdive” closer “Falling Ashes.”
With so many detours and influences on display, Legrand’s entrancing vocals and the seashore-like quality washing in the background of every song make “7” just as much of an effortless escape as Beach House’s previous records. And while the album is less of a self-defining record than “Bloom” due to its explicitly displayed roots, it is these influences that make “7” Beach House’s most comprehensively “dream pop” album to date.