[This is a companion piece to my list of the 100 Best Albums of 2018. Check it out here.]
This was not supposed to happen.
Indie bands usually have a shorter time to prove their worth than NFL running backs – 5 years and you are running on borrowed time. Just look at some great musicians that are trending downward: Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, Parquet Courts, Frankie Cosmos, Natalie Prass, Hop Along, etc. Once you make an album that just fades into the background, you’re not expected to get back in the spotlight.
Not that Beach House had released one of those albums before, but if you look at their trajectory, it seemed bound to happen. Teen Dream broke through in 2010 and has quickly been embraced as one of the greatest albums this decade. Bloom and Depression Cherry were both still great and hit some of the same highs but were rightfully seen as a step down. Arguably, their surprise release Thank Your Lucky Stars could have been seen as the beginning of the end for Beach House. The album was good but came with no sense of surprise despite the nature of its release. For their next album, Beach House would have to tackle the stereotypical sound tainting their legacy.
No worries. How do you take on the stereotype of being drowsy? You start an album with a drum fill and feedback-laced guitars turned up to 11 à la shoegaze classic Loveless. Maybe the lyrics are getting too vague? You make them even harder to understand and even sing in French sometimes. Too self-serious? Well, this is still Beach House we’re talking about. Even with these necessary tonal changes, Beach House are most surprising on 7 by how they stick to their roots and stereotypical “serious/vagueness” without being complacent.
Beach House’s approach has always carried an amateurish, down-home quality that appealed to those of us who always root for the underdog. The drum machine on Teen Dream is so lovably simplistic, and they got more emotional mileage out of it than anybody else could. That is not necessarily the case here. This is a band well into their second decade and they have fully embraced the role of indie veteran. There are sounds sprinkled throughout 7 that have never shown up before: as bold as the twinkling piano throughout “Black Car” or even as small as the vocal loop in the intro to “Woo”. Overall, they’re hard to pin down but they add up to create this irreplicable sonic atmosphere only veterans at the top of their game master (think Kid A, Low, Homogenic, etc.)
Each of the eleven songs on 7 is a luxurious palace draped in fog. The details are hazy, but you can make out the edges and still grasp the scope of what is towering in front of you. Beach House’s mystique comes from what remains hidden even after we fully embrace everything they have to offer.
No other album in 2018 accomplished what 7 did: great songs front to back, diverse sounds coming together under the same aesthetic field, an already-great act cementing its legacy. But that does not seem to be the consensus. As of writing this, no other list has 7 at the top and a top 10 appearance is rare. Beach House has not received the same love as Janelle Monáe, Mitski, and Kacey Musgraves. Honestly, it’s not that shocking. Maybe Beach House did not change enough to excite people who assumed they were just going to plod away and make good albums until nobody cared anymore. Who knows? I am usually not one to look for music publications to validate my opinions. Anyways, it’s fun to go against the grain and root for an underdog. Who fits that role better than Beach House?