There is a certain creativity inherent in expectations. Expectations give one a rubric for their future, and in the case of artists, expectations can act as a guiding principle for the creative process. When an artist pictures or in some way imagines the completed piece before setting about creating it, s/he gets some understanding of the techniques s/he will need to utilize to bring that piece to fruition. But there is another element to this process that should be addressed, which is the negation that occurs because of these initial expectations. If I expect that my painting will look a certain way, I am also effectively saying that it will not look some other way. Unfortunately, as almost anyone who has had a creative impulse will note, the final product rarely matches the mental image. Generally, this is a disappointment, but sometimes the creation can exceed our expectations because new ideas are worked into the final product that were not anticipated in the original imagining. This can be brought about by some outside input (a suggestion of another), some internal impetus (a realization that our idea is way too ambitious), or sometimes because of some happenstance occurrence.
However, a problem can arise when these expectations become the sole foundation for creation. When this occurs, the originality of the work tends to stagnate, as the rigidity seems to leave no room for innovation or even the contemplation of a deviation from the original plan. And this finally brings me to Beacon’s debut album, The Ways We Separate. While not necessarily a poorly executed exercise in downtempo electro-pop, I consistently get the sense that the two men behind Beacon, Thomas Mullarney III and Jacob Gossett, decided early on the sound they were going to create and then put on the blinders until they had a mastered mix. Each song has an intentionality to it, but there is a hesitation to this intentionality, making it seem like Mullarney and Gossett either fear what it would mean to lose their sense of control or just never thought about what it would mean to diverge from their preconceived framework.
The Brooklyn duo has released two EPs over the past two years, No Body and For Now, which introduced the world to their damp relaxation music. The new album stays true to the sound of these first two releases, extending the running time, but offering little in the way of advancement in sound or mood. The record itself sounds like something I would have heard if I had walked into a dorm room a few years ago: prepackaged synth and drum sounds with a little reverb thrown on them to match the dreamy, Thom Yorke-esque vocals blend to create a soothing dreariness from the start. Most of the songs deal with love, specifically the feeling of loss when love fails. The title The Ways We Separate refers to the myriad ways an increasing distance can be felt between two people (or perhaps even between parts of the self) that is explored in the track “Between The Waves.” This theme not only fits with the music’s atmospheric quality, but also with the notion that these songs are something Beacon clings to dearly, songs they cherish but never let take a life of their own, like an overprotective boyfriend keeping tabs on his lover in order to keep some semblance of comfort in the deteriorating relationship.
To be fair, there are highlights among the overbearing presence of the creators, particularly the track “Overseer.” It’s placed in the middle of the album, which helps to change both tempo and tone nicely. Unfortunately, the track can’t salvage the whole 35 minutes. The album’s certainly well-produced, occasionally catchy, and at times even soothing in its simplicity, but it can also be dull and uninspired, like something I might put on when I want inoffensive background music for a relaxing social gathering. This is an instance of two young artists striving to make a complete and enthralling experience, but, in the end, failing to let their creativity and adventurous natures lead them all the way there.