Beach House 7

[Sub Pop/Bella Union; 2018]

Styles: dream pop, romance, ASMR
Others: Cocteau Twins, Lower Dens, Slowdive

The first time we fall in love, the world feels uncomfortably bright. Everyday life takes on an oversaturated quality, as if the scenes playing out before us were flecked with magentas and blues that don’t quite belong, a vividness distilled into one person. Like a chemical high — which love is, of course — we momentarily drift into a consciousness that we can’t quite contain. It’s a dream performed with eyes wide open.

In generic terms, the concept of “dream pop” as soporific feels somewhat nebulous, not least because the classics of the genre — in particular, anything by Cocteau Twins, but certainly their twin masterpieces Treasure and Heaven or Las Vegas — are so violently neon, plastered in a sheen that shares nothing with the relief of sleep. Instead, they belong to that primal understanding of dreams: abundant fantasy, that cartoon version of love where hearts beat out of chests; avatars for a world that defies reality to celebrate something more precious. On their seventh album, Beach House are fully in thrall to the latter.

Perhaps it was different once. 2010’s breakout Teen Dream occasionally felt like a band falling asleep at full volume, even for a group who had already built their craft on warm, woozy lullabies. After Bloom’s widescreen production almost pushed them into stadium territory, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have continued to amp up the melodies while retaining the band’s ASMR qualities, arguably culminating with Depression Cherry. While the latter wasn’t completely adored at a critical level, to me, it felt like they’d at least hit on the blueprint for a masterpiece. On 7, the Baltimore duo presents us with the completed architecture.

As with previous albums, lead single “Lemon Glow” proved to be something of a red herring. Nothing else here offers the kind of pumped up beat and sample-ready synth riff that defines the track, though there are a handful of moments that almost veer into soft rock: “Lose Your Smile” builds to a chord sequence that wouldn’t sound out of place on FM radio, certainly. “Pay No Mind” finds Beach House back to their most perfectly Beach House, only imbued with the kind of sheer happiness that could only come from a love song: “Baby at night when I look at you, nothing in this world keeps me confused.”

But for the most part, it’s the moments that pivot between shadow and light that provide the most pleasure. “L’Inconnue” emerges from its chrysalis around the 1:40 mark, Legrand singing in French as a heavenly choral loop begins to surround her voice. Both musically and lyrically, the development feels closer to the sound of falling in love than anything they’ve made, an ecstatic payoff that ranks among their finest work. By the time “Girl of the Year” achieves its own moment of rapture (“The feeling’s here, the pattern caught in a falling tear…”), it all slides into place. I’m in love.

At once, that other familiar emotion arrives: not that we might be too high, but that it must end. The words “too soon” ring out in the background, and we find ourselves fighting to hold onto the sensation, as we look across to the loved one on a perfect snow day and realize that it’s already becoming a memory, literally passing before our eyes, already a photograph that will produce as much sadness as joy. The cycle ends, the reel spins to a close, and I don’t want to wake up.

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