Through six albums and a compilation of b-sides and rarities, Beach House has been a band so completely devoted to a specific sound of music that it boggles the mind how they could so consistently sound the same and yet deliver album after album which was good to excellent. Eventually, it would seem that the well would run dry for making the whole “indie dream pop” thing work for them, but they have found something that keeps it fresh. This quality is how they have made small changes through the course of their career rather than bold shifts, making each album distinct even while it largely follows the same sort of formula. For example, one listen to Devotion and then Bloom will demonstrate how both albums sound undeniably alike, while also being slightly dissimilar in the execution: the former is minor-key and lo-fi, while the latter is soaring in major keys and much higher production values.
But I say this to point out how much 7 truly is breaking the mold of the typical Beach House album, despite still conforming to the sound they have spent the past dozen years exploring. In fact, I would argue that 7, if not their best album (Teen Dream is a bit too stunning to this day for me to hand the title to another quite yet) is probably the one that most perfectly brings in all the different general ideas of Beach House’s aesthetic while also carving a way for the future, meaning we might be looking back to this one as emblematic of where they go from here. Right off the bat, we are hit strongly with the single “Dark Spring,” and Beach House lets us know we are in for a ride unlike what they have delivered in the past. Even for a band specializing in stoutly ethereal music, “Dark Spring” is by far the closest the band has ever come to shoegazing like we see from My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, and it kick-starts 7 with a passion. Next, we are segued into the gentle “Pay No Mind,” a song verging much closer to psychedelic pop than most of Beach House’s output. This leads to the album’s lead single, “Lemon Glow,” probably the most immediately impacting song on the album, while maintaining a sort of intensity and intimacy that would verge on creepy if it was not so pretty and moving.
But while I could sing the praises of this album track-by-track, it is much more noteworthy to point out how just the three songs mentioned so far vary so much from each other yet fit together well. Never before has Beach House sounded more open and vulnerable, while I also cannot say that they have sacrificed much, if any, of the melodic precision which has defined much of their career (Depression Cherry, in particular, showcases this probably more so than any other release from the band, and it was one of their last two albums released in 2015). That is the story of 7 as a whole: an album that balances Beach House’s distinct sound with a quest for something new and bold. They pull it off, reaching sublime highs with tracks like the slow-building “Dive” and pounding “Woo,” in addition to stunning beauty on the bubbling-to-the-surface “Black Car” and the haunting epic “Last Ride.” If there is one weak moment, I would have to place it on “Lose Your Smile,” which feels underwhelming considering the tracks surrounding it. It is not a rest between “Black Car” and “Woo,” but is still weaker. However, this track is simply the weakest one, but that is not saying much considering the quality of everything else.
Honestly, every track has its own degree of power, making the entire experience one of sublimity. And through it all, 7 never stops moving, but also lingers long enough so we can appreciate the sights. And these are some “sights” to behold. Beach House, by making the boldest moves and stylistic adventures of their entire career, have quite possibly released an album that fully realizes everything the band has stood for and makes it exciting to see what they will do next. In the meantime, I will certainly be spending a great deal of time with 7, one of the best albums I have heard this year.