Let’s review what we know about Beach House.
Beach House consists of two people, Beach House always has cool album covers and Beach House is what the indie-blog cognoscenti would call, “a hip band” to be into. From their self-titled debut in 2006, to the double whammy of 2015’s Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, the synth-pop duo consistently find themselves at the top of the critical heap and somewhere in the middle of bands people pretend to be into to score some taste points. But for some—perhaps those who are choosing to be real honest—every time the appealing visuals and buzzy buzz draws them in, their Spotify-stunted attention spans suck them right back out, unable to make anything of the sleepy, synthy stasis in the 30 seconds their brains allow.
Over six albums and 13 years, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have built quite the reputation—churning out darkly dreamy, melodramatic insulations of noise that always earn the snob stamp of approval. Regardless of where you fall on the Beach House fan spectrum, it’s safe to say there’s a formula to their songs, and it’s one they rarely stray from. This is what made the prospect of 7, the band’s deadpan-titled seventh studio LP so promising. According to the band, 7 felt like a restart, a new chapter, a tossing out of their carefully constructed rule book. The results? Not so much.
On a sonic level, one can understand the interest. The layers of drowsy sound and whirring synth that anchor “Dark Spring,” and “Dive” whir with a fascinating moving-stillness—like the way a hummingbird is suspended in the air while its wings are a blur. It’s interesting, it certainly creates a mood, and Legrand’s monotone vocals float over the top in a way that’s hypnotically soothing.
The issue comes in when this seems to be their only trick. In a statement about the album, Legrand and Scally explained that for their seventh record in their 13 years together, they “wanted to rethink old methods, and shed some self-imposed limitations.” The prospect of them doing something a bit different sets you up for the ultimate letdown when you realize 7 sounds exactly like everything else they’ve done—and every song on 7 sounds basically the same.
There is some variety, but it’s micro. “L’Inconnue” shakes things up with some minxy French counting and a siren’s call of Legrand’s layered vocals. “Drunk In LA” has the slightest hint of dark glamour, and “Lose Your Smile” sounds like the sun coming out from behind the clouds—the clouds of droning, sound-alike melodies and lines like “Nothing left to say / Tomorrow’s gone today.” But the internet shitting itself because they decided to put some propulsive drums midway through “Dive”? Feels like a bit much. Any of these tracks could be placed on a different album, and I’m not sure we would notice the difference.
Thematically, the album deals with two ideas that certainly have potential, which Legrand and Scally described as “The twisted double edge of glamour, with its perils and perfect moments,” and “the beauty that arises in dealing with darkness.” Unfortunately, by the time Legrand gets around to finally getting a full sentence out, you’ve already forgotten how the sentence started. It’s also difficult to make out what she’s saying over the noise from the metaphorical flapping of all those hummingbirds.
It’s not terrible, it’s mostly pleasant to listen to, it’s beautifully produced and it’s easy to recognize the skill it takes to craft their saintly, synth-driven sound. But when you couple a critical reputation like theirs with the band’s own claim of making a big artistic jump, mostly pleasant to listen to shouldn’t cut it. By the time you arrive at the final song, “Last Ride,” the album feels like a blur—a continuous stream of bleep-bloops and achingly slow vocals—which is probably what we can expect from whatever they decide to call number eight.