Review by Michael O'Neill
Beach House is the type of band whose albums often take dozens of repeated listens to be fully realized. The slow-burning nature of their songs can linger in your consciousness for months before finally hitting you in all their beaming, ethereal beauty. That’s why indie rock fans were caught off guard when earlier this month, Beach House announced that they would be releasing their sixth studio full-length, Thank Your Lucky Stars, just seven weeks after gifting the excellent Depression Cherry to the world. The earlier record was just starting to unfurl, and now we were about to have a whole new set of songs to digest. What’s more, journalists would not receive advance copies, and there would be no singles (until a few days before the release date), meaning everybody would be experiencing the entire album for the first time all at once.
By sharing a piece from Impose Magazine, Beach House helped explain why they released Thank Your Lucky Stars at this time and in this manner. Explaining via twitter that the article described “the malaise [they] feel with the way albums come out in the digital/Internet age,” LeGrand and Scally made it clear that they wanted this to be an album not plagued by pre-determined notions of what it was going to be. When the group debuted “Sparks” in early July, observers rushed to label the upcoming Depression Cherry as Beach House’s attempt at making a My Bloody Valentine album. That characterization transferred over once the entire LP came out, despite “Sparks” being the only real shoegaze-flavored track of the nine featured. (If anything Thank Your Lucky Stars is much more of an homage to the Irish shoegazing titans than Depression Cherry.)
The point, then, of leaving such little time between album announcement and album release, was to avoid that awkward two-month gap where just a song or two from an album is available to the public, starting to define an album of which 80% has yet to be heard. Perhaps Beach House planned on holding onto Thank Your Lucky Stars for longer, maybe in order to bolster two separate tours cycles, before being compelled by the disdain for the reception of their recent album and wanting to break the pattern that frustrated them so much. Or, as they’ve mentioned in a recent Reddit AMA, they simply had nine more songs they wanted to share with their fanbase.
The group emphasized on twitter that the songs on Thank Your Lucky Stars were not meant as a companion to those on Depression Cherry, despite being recorded in the same sessions. By and large, the Baltimore duo were successful in making an album unique from Depression Cherry, and in fact from any other previous albums too. For a band so often accused of never mixing up their sound, Beach House sounds darker, more varied, and more concise than ever before.
The first indication that Thank Your Lucky Stars is unlike the rest of Beach House’s catalogue is the opening notes to “She’s So Lovely.” The album’s second track is eerie from the get-go, with its dissonant, droning keyboards and Victoria LeGrand’s sinister vocal musings. The sung refrain of “she’s so lovely” sounds less like a compliment and more like a thinly-veiled expression of jealousy and/or sarcasm.
Following track “All Your Yeahs” walks a similar road, LeGrand describing a mysterious “she” who’s “a fire in the night” over a malicious backing instrumental. Halfway through, however, a jumpy keyboard riff and a change in mood lifts the song into a different headspace, one much lighter and more mid-aughts indie-influenced. It almost ends up sounding like something off the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz!, which is fitting given the song’s title.
“Common Girl” is another new take on the Beach House formula, replacing looming synths with a chirpy harpsichord-like sound. LeGrand’s dramatic delivery and the reappearance of the still-unnamed and nondescript “she” combine with the keys to give the song a magical, renaissance-like feel. This ambience arose in brief glimpses on “She’s So Lovely” and “All Your Yeahs,” but now it’s in full force. At just over three minutes long, “Common Girl” is the shortest track on a Beach House full-length since 2008’s Devotion, another signal that TYLS is a departure from what we saw on Teen Dream, Bloom, and Depression Cherry.
For all its singularity and trailblazing, Thank Your Lucky Stars also contains songs that harken back to elements that are undeniably Beach House-like. Both album-opener “Majorette” and “One Thing” tap into the same vein as “Sparks,” warranting some My Bloody Valentine comparisons (especially the mbv-lite “One Thing). “The Traveller” adds a bit of Caribbean seasoning on top of what is perhaps the most conventional Beach House-style song here. “Elegy to the Void” is the album’s crowning moment, slowly building up in anticipation in a manner reminiscent of Depression Cherry closer “Days of Candy.” The early repeated lines “again and again” stand as the most emotionally stirring moment on the record, and the incisions of distorted guitar that break out in the song’s latter half are simply outstanding.
One place where Thank Your Lucky Stars suffers is its lack of a big, climactic moment to take your breath away. While the aforementioned “Elegy to the Void” does contain the album’s peak, it’s a relatively tame one compared to the heights other Beach House records have reached. The song doesn’t quite match up with, say, Teen Dream’s “10 Mile Stereo,” Depression Cherry’s “Days of Candy,” or any of the first four tracks from Bloom. That being said, TYLS is also more consistently good throughout than any other Beach House release, with every song standing out on its own merits. No two tracks really blend together, and that’s a good thing for a band who often can’t (or don’t aim to) mix up their sound too often.
The question that everybody will be asking is, “Depression Cherry or Thank Your Lucky Stars?” With Beach House, it’s impossible to fully judge an album after its release (which you could say renders this entire review null and void, but I digress). Ask me again in a year’s time; maybe I’ll know then, but it’s equally possible that I won’t. What I do know is twofold: first, that these albums will forever be linked, but also each maintain enough of their own quirks to be judged separately; and secondly, that Thank Your Lucky Stars is a damn good album that’ll only get better as time goes on.