Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Beach House Thank Your Lucky Stars

So far, all of Beach House’s albums have required you to give up a part of yourself to fully appreciate them. They’re sweeping, broad swaths of emotion for the listener to project their feelings onto. They come along every two years or three, claims for your unwanted baggage. Because of that nature, they become intrinsically tied to moments in your own life. Devotion and Teen Dream will always remind me of the anxiety I felt as I made the leap from high school to college; two years later, Bloom came about just as I was feeling restless and wondering what to do next. And, as Caitlin so eloquently put in her review of Depression Cherry, that record represented loss, and the blood-red anger and pain that results from it. Up until this point, all of Beach House’s albums have inspired a deep, justified, and personal emotional response. But it’s hard to go to that well twice in such a short period of time. There’s only so much of yourself that you can give over. For that reason, Thank Your Lucky Stars comes to us on completely different terms than any Beach House record so far. Evaluating and investing in it feels clinical in a way that the band never has before.

Most of that feeling probably has to do with the back-to-back release schedule. Digging into TYLS requires a bit more parsing than usual: Is it a companion record? A B-sides collection? A surprise, even though they insist that it’s not? In a few years, separated from this context, I expect the record will solidly stand on its own. It’s too good of an album not to. But, for right now, it’s impossible not to weigh Beach House’s two most recent albums against one another, down to their nine-track by nine-track structures: “Somewhere Tonight” doesn’t reach the elegiac, choral-assisted highs of “Days Of Candy” as a closer; “Levitation” has more of a backbone than “Majorette”; “One Thing” and “The Traveller” are stronger pivot points than their Depression Cherry counterparts. These comparisons are inevitable, unfortunately. Beach House invited them, releasing such similar records so close to each other. Ever one for grand gestures in their songs, the band has largely eschewed them when it comes to their marketing. Beach House albums always seemed to arrive organically, right when they’re needed. But this is the first time that one doesn’t feel so necessary.

It doesn’t help that a band so often accused of always sounding the same decided to put out two new albums in as many months. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have always progressed in micro-shifts, and leaving so little distance between these records highlights that fact. Over a longer period of time, their consistency and sameness is a comfort. But jutting up against each other like this, it can also be interpreted as an inability to adapt. They’ve always bordered on becoming a caricature: There’s the same old Beach House metronome that’s in every song, ticking away like a clock toward irrelevancy. We tend to crave forward motion in our art, but the duo pushes against that desire, sometimes frustratingly so. But it’s not in the nature of the band — the whole project seems hermetically opposed to change.

So, of course, TYLS doesn’t sound much different from what we’ve come to expect from the Baltimore duo. But they do make good on a promise: When introducing Depression Cherry — before we even knew Thank Your Lucky Stars was on the horizon — Beach House said it hearkened back to an earlier sound, invoking the soft and comforting lo-fi touches of their self-titled debut and Devotion. But when Depression Cherry arrived in the summer, I was disappointed that it ended up being more in line with Teen Dream and Bloom than they had made it out to be. I wanted something, anything, to switch up the formula that they had perfected over the years. In hindsight, though, it seems so obvious that they were talking about this record, because it so distinctly connects to their roots. That’s what makes TYLS a valuable contribution to Beach House’s discography, not just an also-ran: It finds a way to marry the dramatic backdrops of their last three records with the more straightforward, to-the-point nature of their beginnings.

When Beach House are chugging ahead at full-steam, they avoid traditional verse-chorus-verse structure altogether. Their songs are giant moods, splashes of feeling and flow. But the tracks on Thank Your Lucky Stars don’t operate like that — they regress, but in a satisfying way. They feel graspable and grounded in a way that the band hasn’t since their outset. You can reach out and touch these songs, see how they work. It makes the duo seem more human, and gives them more of a personality than they’ve ever had before. Here, they’re more interested in telling their own stories than letting us paint in the details of our own problems.

In announcing the new album, the band made sure to mention that the songs on TYLS were written after all of the ones on DC, even though they were recorded around the same time. I think that’s where the divide between the two albums starts to become apparent: One is the head and the other is the heart. DC is more Scally’s work — look at the labored, heavy set pieces of “PPP” and “10:37″ and “Sparks.” These shoegaze-inspired tracks emphasize the technical element of Beach House’s sound. That’s the head. But TYLS highlights the emotional — it’s like Legrand used up everything she had on DC and dug deeper than she ever has before. So, while their world-building is still as pristine as ever, Thank Your Lucky Stars is the first Beach House record that feels like it has a perspective. And the perspective that comes through so strongly is Legrand’s. (In fact, this is the first time I ever started to wonder what a solo record from her would sound like.)

It’s a lucky twist of fate that news of the record leaked out with the lyrics sheets first, because those are more important this time around. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever really paid much attention to the words in Beach House’s songs before Thank Your Lucky Stars. Outside of their big, climactic platitudes — “I’d take care of you,” “Then it comes again, just like a spark,” “Was it ever quite enough?” — the lyrics always felt, if not secondhand, then just a much smaller component of a larger picture: a means to an end, a note to a feeling. Legrand would stretch her syllables beyond recognition, so the meaning would blend in rather than stick out. There’s still a lot of that here, but there are also significant sections where it’s clear that the arrangements take a backseat to the story. Thank Your Lucky Stars puts the words front-and-center more than ever, and to great effect. “Would I be acting up/ If I said it’s not enough?” she asks on “The Traveller,” and later on: “Would I be acting up/ If I said not that much?” Legrand’s weighing her options between coming to the forefront or continuing to hang out behind the curtain — both are viable, but TYLS commits to the former.

Legrand creates honest-to-god characters and plots on this album, evocative and dynamic portraits of hyper-specific situations. On “Common Girl” — whose syncopated beat is lifted nearly straight from Devotion’s “Wedding Bell” — she snapshots the titular tragic figure with clarity: “She makes movies where she cries on cue,” “She’s the one with the lazy eye.” “Rough Song” chronicles the whirlwind of a drunken family party that begs for escape: “Hard to hear she spit on you and made your bloody nose more bloody/ Shut the door, she’ll have no more/ Another vodka cocktail party.” Or on “One Thing,” where they commit to what I’m pretty sure is their first F-bomb: “You’re always out of reach/ The faces in the secondhand/ A little fuck off kiss.” The band even reaches #peak Beach House with “Elegy To The Void,” a title which is as winking and self-aware as they’ve been willing to get. “All Your Yeahs,” with its conversational lead-off, displays more of that potency with one of the most anthemic and optimistic paeans the duo has crafted yet: “It’s your life/ Do you right/ Give them love.”

Thank Your Lucky Stars is littered with this kind of striking and poetic energy. It layers itself through the album and, coupled with their more straitlaced approach to song construction, in many ways TYLS stands as the band’s most accessible work yet. What they lose in mystique, they gain in tangibility. Even the title of the record and the artwork — the first to feature an entirely visible face in frame — provides us more of an established story than the rest. If TYLS is any indication, the duo is shifting away from being just a screen waiting to be filled with other people’s memories. I wish I had more of myself to give up to it, but it seems like Beach House are compensating for that by putting in a lot more of themselves.

Thank Your Lucky Stars is out now on Sub Pop.

Tags: Beach House