There’s a hypnotic quality to the music of American dream pop duo Beach House, but inattentive listeners might mistake their walls of sound for monotony. Like other musicians who fall into the subgenre of psychedelic rock or shoegaze, the band operates best when making use of light, breathy vocals and extended, multilayered instrumental sections. However, Beach House members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally aren’t interested in lulling their audience into just a single unbroken haze of feeling. In their seventh album, simply entitled 7, they continue to use dreamlike soundscapes to capture the uncertainty of emotions and memory, as well as the endless complexity of women.
Beach House understands that the task of perfectly illustrating complexity through lyrics is impossible, so their process is to go the other way. That is, they distill everything they’d like to say into simple descriptions and broken phrases. Most of the lyrics on 7 are sung in a staccato rhythm, so the brief spaces between these words are effectively colored in with hesitation and doubt. These stops and starts in Legrand’s vocal delivery communicate the weight of complicated human relationships—the album’s primary focus—better than any other lyrics might be able to.
But 7 is at its most interesting when it takes unexpected detours into ballads about women. Beach House recognizes that women are individuals living under constant pressure, and yearns to grant them the freedom to be whomever they choose to be. In “Girl of the Year,” Legrand summarizes the troubled nature of actress and model Edie Sedgwick with the words “Get dressed to undress, depressed to impress.” In “Drunk in LA,” which tells the story of a former starlet, the band captures an intersection between regret and contentment: “I had a good run playing horses in my mind, on a hillside I remember I am loving losing life.” And in “L’Inconnue,” Beach House provides the simplest of affirmations, stating “Little girl, you should be loved, the moment you say you know is the moment you are.” In 7, a woman’s worth does not need to be earned, only embraced.
Between Beach House’s lyrics, synthesizers and heavy distortion fill in the gaps. As in their previous work, the band is also smart about when to pierce through the distortion with piano notes or drum fills. Scally’s guitar work often finds space to accentuate the emotions on display—most notably in his solos for “Dive” and “Last Ride,” which resolve any lyrical contradictions with bursts of euphoria. And Legrand’s distinct voice gives the album’s 11 tracks both sweetness and an eerie quality. This is most evident, again, in “L’Inconnue,” where her vocals are overlapped to create something of a Church choir singing in chorus. It’s a haunting yet comforting performance that expresses Legrand’s femininity in surprising but vital ways.
7 remains an enigmatic, unpredictable album even after repeat listens. But it isn’t the kind of record that begs to be understood or solved. While it stays consistently ambiguous about the emotions Legrand and Scally ultimately champion in the end, it still feels like a cohesive product made up of distinct and essential parts. For Beach House, imbuing every lyric and musical choice with meaning is nowhere near as important as the movement of feeling within and between songs. These movements can create inexplicable moments of heartbreak, like in the seamless shift from the optimism of “Dive” to the loss of “Black Car.” But there are moments of triumph here, too; the final song, “Last Ride” sends us off with a tribute to German musician Nico that sees beauty even as it reflects on her death. Life may pass, but we are told that a life lived in complexity is a life worth celebrating.
7 is streaming on Spotify.