Six albums in to a discography of heavenly, ethereal dream pop, I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a crossroads with Beach House. This is a band who have, in 2015, pretty much perfected their sound and stand as the uncontested masters of the genre. But at the same time, this is a band that have never diverged in any meaningful way from the basic musical formula they laid out on their self-titled debut. The five records that followed that album have essentially been a process of refinement, with each one being more densely and ambitiously produced than the last. Now, however, we find the band breaking with that progression and returning to a more stripped back sound in line with their first two albums. This is always a dangerous move for an established artist, and my worry before hearing the record was that Beach House would trade imagination for nostalgia, and, having failed to push their sound forwards, push it backwards instead.
To a certain extent, this is the case on Thank Your Lucky Stars. The album doesn’t have any real ambition to evolve the bands sound, and it doesn’t provide too many fresh ideas. But god damnit, this thing is so relentlessly pretty from start to finish that I can’t help but love it. When Beach House are serving up hazy lullabies as beautiful as ‘She’s So Lovely’ and ‘Somewhere Tonight’, it feels like a fools errand to complain that they aren’t releasing the post-reggae dream funk double album some people seem to want from them. The songwriting on TYLS is as sharp as ever, but it’s also economical, suited to fit the less grandiose presentation of the record. ‘All Your Yeahs’, for example, opens with 40 seconds of a steady drum beat and one guitar note repeatedly plucked, while Victoria LeGrand’s vocal croon introduces the songs central melody. Then, at the 40 second mark, the guitar shifts into the main riff of the track and LeGrand’s vocals are doubled to create the harmony. It’s a lovely effect, and it shows that Beach House, unlike so many boring shoegazey indie bands, refuse to hide mediocre songs behind a wall of dreamy post-production. Here, as elsewhere on the record, they aren’t afraid to strip their songs down to their most skeletal elements in order to put the pieces back together again.
This stripped down sound allows LeGrand’s vocals to take centre stage on a number of tracks, revealing the woozy prettiness of the lyrics beneath. Take these, for example, from album closer ‘Somewhere Tonight’: “pink and blue were dancing / empty floor, shadows lancing / somewhere, in a ballroom tonight”. LeGrand’s baritone vocals against the warm, wobbly synth chords and the lilting drums of this final track are spine-tingling, luring the listener into one last codeine slowdance to end the night. ‘Elegy To The Void’ is another highlight, a slow-building gloomy tune that returns to the darker themes found on August’s Depression Cherry. The second half of the track features some subtle, textural use of guitar feedback that sounds a bit like a car skidding off a road, or an animal screeching. It’s an unusual effect, and one of the more intriguing moments on the record.
Thank Your Lucky Stars might not quite reach the heights of Teen Dream or Bloom, but it’s another great album from a very consistent, though not particularly adventurous, band. It does leave me to wonder, though, with Beach House having now come full circle in their sound – where do they go next?