New Music – New Song / Warpaint

Warpaint either needed to go more dancey or more urgent on their next album if they were to follow up their sleepy, r’n’b-inspired self titled album. They needed something to liven them up. We got a taste of that with the one-off release of ‘I’ll Start Believing’, which suggested that they were experimenting with more immediate rock with a dreamy glimmer, but ‘New Song’ is all dance. Remember ‘Disco//Very’, a standout from the last album? It’s like that, point two. But the difference is the dream duo rhythm section of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa are playing a larger part once again, with Lindberg’s bass always being very forthright, but even more so in the context of dance music. It feels very 80s-inspired, like Lindberg’s solo side project has informed the band much more that it usually does, which isn’t a bad thing at all – she even has a larger part in the vocals, which is usually either Theresa Wayman or Emily Kokal. I can see some apprehension to the track for anyone that wanted Warpaint to return to a more guitar oriented sound, but experimentation was desperately needed. And experimentation is what we got.

Classic Review – Bloom / Beach House

11406The decade isn’t even over and we’ve got some masterpieces on our hands. We could have picked Visions, The Suburbs or if we’re talking classics waiting to happen – Weird SisterBloom isn’t any of those albums, and rightfully so. It exists on its own plane, a grand, dark, romantic piece of art that refuses to give anything away and allows itself to bury itself deep in the consciousness. It isn’t a concept album, its title and artwork are infuriatingly open to interpretation. It could mean the band doing exactly that – blooming into the band that they had inside of them all along when they were making dusty whisperings about Apple Orchards. Bloom didn’t come from nowhere, it formed from Teen Dream, which is exactly like what the title suggests it is. That was Beach House’s big breakthrough record, but Bloom is the coalescing of their past, present and future.

‘Myth’ is Beach House at their most mysterious and ambitious. If Alex Scally’s guitarwork was impressive on Teen Dream, then it expands further on ‘Myth’, with a sprawling section of arpeggiated notes gliding into one another for a good two minutes, until he draws out four chords heavy on the reverb. ‘Myth’s lyrics are purposefully vague, but the overall emotions that come across is confusion and relief. Legrand pleads ‘Help me to name it’ on the chorus, but what is ‘it?’. Maybe the reason ‘Myth’ is so indecipherable is that Legrand can’t quite put her finger on the message itself, and that emotion, possibly for a loved one, is so strong that it’s impossible to put it into words. Legrand and Scally enclose themselves in fantasy on the line ‘What comes after this / Momentary bliss’, something they’ve written about a few times. Even their band name is dedicated to a solitary world away from the rest of reality. Legrand is constantly chasing the feeling, though she might not know what it is, she knows it is ‘bliss’.  Many times in interviews Legrand and Scally have been unable to describe what their band sounds like, no out of some kind of pretentiousness, but because it is truly hard to explain what they are. ‘Dream-pop’ is a surface description, and the ‘dream’ is certainly in Beach House’s material. They inhabit small fantasies tucked away in mundane reality. If you look at at of their album artwork photos that come with the music, Beach House is a super-zoomed image of gold, pearls and chains, Devotion is another super-zoomed set of images around flowers, gems and statues. They’re physical manifestations of these worlds that Beach House explore – We can’t touch the world of ‘Myth’, because it’s a feeling, but we can connect with it on a spiritual level.

I’m always tempted to say that Beach House have an air of childlike innocence and wonder about them, but that’s wrong. They’re more like children on the cusp of adulthood, making sense of the world around them whilst clinging onto the small fantasy worlds that only childhood can conjure up. On ‘Wishes’, when Legrand sings ‘The voices in the hall / will carry on their talking / carry weight you can’t take’, it will be familiar to anyone who has heard parents and family talking in the hall, or behind closed doors, and being infuriated that you aren’t allowed a say as they are ‘carrying your weight’. When Legrand sings ‘Wishes on a wheel’, she’s talking about the constant movement of wishes, up and down, disappearing and reappearing. It has connotations with the concept of the Wheel of Fortune, on which we are all placed and rotate around according to our fortune. It’s like the saying of ‘What goes around comes around’, but that has a negative message. Legrand and Scally see it as a wish for love and the possibility of it reappearing. Legrand sings ‘The roses on the lawn won’t know which side you’re on’, drawing attention to the fact that love is ageless and will come and go as it pleases. The song is about how love isn’t confined to an age, and as the wish of love is on a wheel, it can’t be broken off, so even in old age it can come back around.

Flowers come back again in ‘The Hours’. The song, about confusion and risk in love, has Legrand sing ‘violence in the flowers’, a direct contrast between beauty and violence. Legrand sees a darkness in the beauty of the person, contributing to the constant questioning of whether to profess her love, and whether she has to ‘Climb up to the tower’ in order to make a grand gesture of love in an attempt to capture their feelings. The best lyric on the song, however, comes from ‘It’s all in a glance you’ll see / Don’t forget about me’. To detour from Beach House completely, there’s a scene in Frances Ha where the protagonist, Frances, says this:

It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it… but it’s a party… and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual… but because… that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.

The funny thing is, that movie ends with that exact moment that Frances describes, but with her friend, not her lover. Legrand connects with this moment (it’s coincidental that they share the same message), the possibilities between friendship and love, and the mysterious worlds that love can create. I think that sums up the point of Beach House completely.

It’s probably not a surprise at this point that Bloom is our favourite album. The instrumentation, which we’ve failed to praise enough, is vast and expansive, like the worlds that Legrand explores. ‘The Hours’ is like heavy, rolling rock translated into dream-pop and ‘Troublemaker’ has a lovely cascading section of keys and guitar intertwining with each other, and then there’s the arpeggiated synth on ‘Lazuli’ that bounces along underneath the song. But of course, it’s the themes that strike the hardest on Bloom. We’ve covered a lot of ‘themed’ albums during our time on classic reviews, but how do you write a theme album about emotions you can’t quite explain? Well, ‘Myth’ addresses that, by talking about the emotions themselves. Bloom itself is a myth, a hushed prayer just as Beach House peaked in popularity that expanded on Teen Dream in every way possible. It’s vague as hell, but Beach House ask you to dig a little deeper, and in the process, find your way into their little universes that they’ve carved out in the mundanity of normal life.

Album Review – Thank Your Lucky Stars / Beach House

It would be nigh-impossible to disassociate Thank Your Lucky Stars with Depression Cherry, a record that came out less than two months ago and is (in my opinion) one of the best albums of the year so far. Thank Your Lucky Stars comes hot on the heels of Depression Cherry and whilst details are scarce on …Lucky Starsit feels like familiar Beach House, albeit with some unlikely twists to surprise the fans. It has an even hazier feel than their previous albums, possibly because the timing of the album is still so surprising that people are unsure whether to expect an experimental departure to balance out the perfection of Depression Cherry, or a more familiar approach. In fact, Thank Your Lucky Stars take polar opposite approaches in its sonic palette; absorbing the light-shoegaze of Depression Cherry with songs like ‘One Thing’ and the intimacy of their early albums – Beach House and Devotion. It amounts to a record unlike any other Beach House record but is still sumptuously delivered and produced.

The ‘light shoegaze’ elements of Depression Cherry that weren’t fully fulfilled actually come back with more force on …Lucky Stars. Songs such as ‘One Thing’ or ‘Elegy To The Void’ go to territories that their previous record merely hinted at. In fact ‘Elegy To The Void’ is one of the grandest, most beautiful songs Beach House have ever put to tape. It begins with Victoria Legrand’s organ and eventually the return of more organic-sounding drums patter across the track. The lyrics are poetic and innocent, with Legrand singing ‘Freckle-faced young virgin’ and ‘Run from hollow hills / Walk into the night’. Legrand is still obsessed with escapism and youth and it comes up time and time again throughout …Lucky Stars. The song goes on for 6:30, which is a huge portion of time for Beach House to devote to one song, but it feels necessary. It works similarly to ‘Levitate’ from Depression Cherry, where the endlessness works in its favour, before fading out. Another of the ‘shoegaze’ songs on the album is ‘One Thing’, a song that could be described as a ‘love song’, but is done in only the way Beach House write a love song. They envelope the song with fuzzy guitars and drums, causing it to stand out from the more dream-pop moments on the album, of which there are plenty. It’s an interesting direction for Beach House to take which results in an album highlight.

More traditional songs by Beach House standards are ‘Majorette’ or ‘Somewhere Tonight’, which sounds a bit like the band slowed down ‘Silver Soul’ from Teen Dream. They make the song almost sound like a 1950s pop song, although much sadder and slower. The lyrics also reference the 1950s ballroom party, with Legrand singing ‘Pink and blue were dancing’ and ‘Somewhere in the ballroom tonight’. There’s even an organ solo for good measure. You can almost imagine the famous scene from Carrie taking place and Beach House providing a perfect (if slightly contrasting) soundtrack. ‘Majorette’, however, kicks the album off with a bang. Alex Scally’s distorted guitar rumbles over a cleaner piano. The way Beach House use distorted or shoegaze guitar sounds never interferes with what Legrand is doing with her voice, organ or synths. It almost shouldn’t work, but it does. The theme of ‘majoretting’ (another reference to the early 20th century) is about completely losing control of everything, but Beach House make is sound so damn dreamy that utterly breaking down seems like a good thing to do.

Parties make frequent returns throughout …Lucky Stars. ‘Rough Song’ has Legrand singing ‘Found a hole in the party’ and ‘Another vodka cocktail party’. Don’t be fooled by the title, ‘Rough Song’ is anything but. The drums, synths and organ have a more traditional Beach House sound and the pacing is slower and takes its time to unfold. Eventually when the guitar comes in, it ripples across the track and Legrand raises her voice to the levels that she ventured out to on Depression Cherry. Legrand is much less adventurous with her voice on …Lucky Stars compared to Depression Cherry, which is unfortunate as it marked an change in style. She reverts back to Teen Dream and Bloom‘s vocal style, which was by no means bad, but is less experimenting in her voice. If anything, she experiments with being a crooner on ‘Somewhere Tonight’, which goes down better than you’d expect.

What it’s important to note is that Thank Your Lucky Stars is clearly not Beach House’s Amnesiac. The songs come from another place, away from Depression Cherry. They have their own tone and musical style and is also rooted in early-to-mid 20th Century references. It is also much more mysterious, with its album artwork that looks more like their first two albums with its handcrafted diamonds and picture and has much less information given away about it prior to its release. This is Beach House at their most prolific, delivering both a grand statement with Depression Cherry and an understated gem with …Lucky Stars. But …Lucky Stars‘ impact shouldn’t be cheapened by Cherry’s greatness – it’s a record just as good as the one they just put out. How Beach House can simply put out two fantastic records in such a short timespan is a mystery to me, but they have done it. It would be interesting to see the response to a double album for Beach House considering how well these two albums worked, but as they’re so different in style it doesn’t make sense to couple them.

8/10

Funnel Recommends: She’s So Lovely / One Thing / Elegy To The Void

Album Review – Depression Cherry / Beach House

Beach House are a Baltimore dream-pop band on their fifth album now. Their first two albums were quiet, introspective affairs. Their third and fourth, Teen Dream and Bloom, were also quiet, introspective affairs, but they had the might of Sub-Pop behind them, and the instrumentation came across as much grander and predominant. Their new album, Depression Cherry, has been positioned as more like their first two albums, but it sounds a lot more like Teen Dream, both in concept and in style. The length of the album is very similar to that of Teen Dream, roughly 15 minutes less than the sprawling Bloom. The sounds, pared back to Teen Dream standards, have the same evolution that their third album did, incorporating more shoegazey guitars and Victoria Legrand changes up her vocal style on a few songs here and there, such as ‘Beyond Love’ and ‘Sparks’. While Beach House don’t stand alongside the shoegaze revivalists such as the Horrors or even the resurrected Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, the sound owes a lot more to dream-pop godfathers Cocteau Twins; the dreamy side with plenty of reverb, but also a pop side. Depression Cherry might not be the overhaul that Teen Dream was, but it’s some of the most blissful and satisfying music you’ll hear this year.

The opening three-song act is the strongest Beach House have ever come out of the gate. Beach House have never exploded into action, but the shoegaze opener of ‘Space Song’ to the steel-drum-synths of ‘Levitation’. ‘Levitation’ begins like ‘Myth’ did on Bloom, before some synthetic drums roll in. Legrand sings ‘There is no right time’. It really kicks off at the 2:30 mark with a muffled guitar and eventually a surprisingly clear shoegaze guitar cuts through the dreamscapes as Legrand sings ‘There is a place I want to take you’. It’s emotional, heartwarming stuff. ‘Levitation’ isn’t as immediate as ‘Myth’ was in the opener competition, but it grows and grows on you. ‘Sparks’ is the track most people have heart. The guitar is still as interesting as it appeared a couple of months ago; drenched in distortion. The first two lines resemble a forgotten song from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs with ‘We drive around this town / Houses melting down’. Legrand’s lyrics on Depression Cherry are some of her best yet, mostly ambiguous and open to interpretation. ‘Space Song’ sounds exactly like you’d expect: A mix of Slowdive’s ‘Sing’ and astronaut loneliness. It’s a soundtrack to the loneliness of space, but also the space of ‘somewhere in these eyes’. It’s a beautiful metaphor and an interesting riff on the ‘lost in your eyes’ theme that tends to get banded around a lot.

‘Beyond Love’ is one of the weaker tracks on the album, despite opening with Alex Scally’s newfound love of shoegaze guitars. It is very Slowdive at points, but also very Cocteau Twins. Once again, the lyrics are incredible. Legrand opens with ‘The first thing that I do before I get into your house / I’m gonna tear off all the petals from the rose that’s in your mouth’. Even when I can’t interpret the lyrics, it’s easy just to take a step back and appreciate the vivid imagery Legrand comes up with. ’10:37′ is another example of Legrand’s lyrical ambiguity, with ‘Chances are / 10:37 / Houses made of dawn disappear’. While these words might seem impenetrable, it never sounds wrong or pretentious, partially because Legrand’s voice is so unique and it’s backed by gorgeous instrumentation. Even ‘PPP’ has a spoken word intro, before sounding quite a bit like ‘Take Care’ from Teen Dream. If there’s one criticism I have about Beach House, it’s that you often wonder ‘Have I heard this before?’. The good thing about Depression Cherry is that at nine tracks, it’s short enough to have a personality and character for each song, but doesn’t sound over in an instant, because no Beach House record shouldn’t feel like an elongated, cloudy dream. This second trilogy of songs is weaker than the first three and last three, leading to a mid-album slump which thankfully it does recover from.

Finally, ‘Wildflower’, ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Days Of Candy’ close out the record. ‘Wildflower’ opens with softly-hit synthetic drums and Legrand’s organ making a welcome return. There’s even a little guitar solo bridge between the second verse and third verse, but it doesn’t take away from the music, it’s just a flair to attach to the melody. Legrand gives a rare moment of directness when she sings ‘Baby I’m yours’, but the rest of the track is clouded in colours, sky and city imagery. My only criticism of the track is the way it simply dies at the end, no fade or anything. It briefly cuts the mood. ‘Bluebird’ is a moody guitar-and-synth-oriented-track, but another that dies a quick death at the end. It stands alongside ‘Beyond Love’ as one of the weaker tracks, but no track on Depression Cherry is bad – really. ‘Days of Candy’ tops the album off perfectly with the backing of a choir. It’s another track that’s reminiscent of Slowdive, especially the similarity of Victoria Legrand and Rachel Goswell’s vocals. The song is something of a cyclical finale for the ‘Depression’ part of Depression Cherry, as ‘Days of Candy’ references good days; content, sweet days. When Legrand sings ‘I know it comes too soon’ she is talking about another wave of depression, brought on by ‘the universe is riding off with you’. She is content to let it happen, as long as she has her ‘Days of Candy’ to balance it. It’s one of Beach House’s sadder songs, but it brings Depression Cherry to a brilliant end, assisted finally by a fade out instead of another cut.

There it is, a micro-overview of every song on Depression Cherry, which isn’t too hard considering it’s nine songs and clocks in at 45 minutes. Unlike previous Beach House records, that 45 minutes never drags, which I found it to do on Teen Dream and on Bloom. Depression Cherry isn’t the evolution that I expected, but it’s a necessary and comforting stepping stone. This could be seen as Beach House relaxing into their sound, but the lyrical treasures and the instrumentation are enough to make this record stand on its own two feet. This is the best Beach House record yet, not for the revolution in sound, the attention to detail when it comes to constructing songs, or even the lyrics. It’s the best because it feels like Beach House don’t have anything to prove and can make what they want; it has the same freeing creativity as In Rainbows by Radiohead did when it came out. I love this album.

9/10

Album Review – Another One / Mac DeMarco

Another One has been billed as a mini-album; a stopgap between his next project, which knowing DeMarco, could drop within the next ten minutes. Last year’s Salad Days attempted to put a serious face on Mac, offering another dimension to the goof that he’s become known as. The instrumentation has always contrasted anything other than youthful spontaneity, with its strange tunings, psychedelic guitars and occasional shimmering synths. Salad Days was an interesting record, but it confirmed that Mac couldn’t expand his sound palette too much. Another One doesn’t divert from the traditional instrumentation and sleepy vocals, which leads to another solid album’s worth of the same songs. It’s disappointingly dependable.

The more experimental tracks, such as the title track, draws on ‘Chamber Of Reflection’ from Salad Days which was Mac’s best electronic track. The synths he deploys sound like he ripped them out from an old Nintendo game, with Mac’s dreamy vocal assisting the simple set-up of synth, piano and drums. He’s not the greatest lyricist, taking inspiration from early rock n’ roll with its innocent musings on love. Mac sings ‘Feeling so confused / You don’t know what to do’. Mac convinces a paranoid friend that his girlfriend loves him and no-one else. Eventually the friend comes around, but by that time the ‘other one’ has come into his life too. Like I said, the lyrics are simple, but they benefit from the fuzzy instrumentation linking back to a time when simpler lyrics would have been more appreciated.

‘Just To Put Me Down’ is a more traditional Mac song, using guitars with Hawaii-aping chord sequences and repetitive structures. The lack of experimentation beyond the same chorus ‘Picking me up / Just to put me down’ and not much in way of instrumentation evolving, apart from a guitar solo that drifts alongside an elongated fade-out shows cracks in Mac’s abilities. Sure, he can write a fine pop song and can sometimes mix things up with a synth track, his albums are becoming way more stale than his personality off-record. Mac’s interviews, live shows and quirks such as revealing his new home address at the end of ‘My House By The Water’ are the main part of his charm. Unfortunately, he can’t always deliver the goods when it comes to his actual ‘job’ and art. ‘My House By The Water’ is one of the best tracks on Another One, which would be good if it didn’t feel like a track that had to be put on for the address. There are no lyrics to speak of on the track, instead the track is taken up by the sound of water lapping at a shore and Mac’s Nintendo-synths popping up again, with an occasional train in the background. It’s the most zen thing Mac’s ever put to tape.

Another One has some good tracks; ‘A Heart Like Hers’, ‘Another One’ and ‘My House By The Water’ are the best on here. However, there is a lot of dream-pop filler which could have come from any of Mac’s albums so far and I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Another One hasn’t been billed as an album, but that shouldn’t stop it from having its own identity. Going into his fourth album, he’s going to have to shake things up considerably in order to retain both his endearing personality and a musical niche. More ‘Chamber of Reflection’ and ‘Another One’ synth-pop tracks with a psychedelic twist definitely wouldn’t go amiss.

4/10

Track Review – Sparks // Beach House

‘Sparks’, the lead single from new album Depression Cherry signals another change of pace for Beach House. Their first two albums were minimalist, quiet affairs, but their most critical and commercial success came in the form of Teen Dream and Bloom, glazed-over dream-pop glistening with reverb and atmospheric synths. ‘Sparks’ takes a detour into shoegazey guitars, but retains the spaced-out keyboards and distant drums. The lyrics are typically vague and cryptic, with Victoria Legrand singing ‘And then it goes dark again / just like a spark’, seemingly referring to a relationship ‘going dark’ and lighting back up again.

The most interesting part of the song is Alex Scally’s guitar lines, drenched in effects and covered by Legrand’s whispering vocals. It shows that Beach House are willing to evolve beyond their current sound, which tends to change every two albums or so. Whilst ‘Sparks’ isn’t a huge departure; the vocals could easily be from anything Beach House have released, as well as the psychedelic, repetitive synths and keyboard which aligns them with some of the softer moments of Tame Impala, but they are a lot less brash and more dreamlike than their Australian counterparts. A solid first taster, which looks forward as well as keeping what made Beach House so unique in the first place.