Not-so-supergroup’s debut risks nothing with its weary filler
Beachy Head is a chalk cliff in East Sussex known for its breathtaking scenery in more than one way. Besides being Britain’s highest cliff with a stunning view of the English Channel, it’s also one of the world’s most popular suicide sites—up there with The Golden Gate Bridge and Niagara Falls (it’s always the most picturesque places). Whichever way you prefer to see it, it could be said in safe measure that it’s known for stealing breaths, whether just one or your last. Most hope for the same thing when they listen to music worthy of inspiration (get it?) but the not-so-supergroup, Beachy Head—formed by Slowdive’s Christian Savill that includes fellow Slowdive member Rachel Goswell, The Flaming Lips’ drummer Matt Duckworth, Ryan Graveface (Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dreamend) and Steve Clarke (The Soft Cavalry)—came out with their self-titled debut LP that does something to respiration in a way unlike the experience of a view’s rapture or of an intense gravitational impact. Both those are desirable, albeit for vastly different reasons. This one is more of a sigh of expectations unmet.
Backing up such a claim usually involves isolating multiple variables that contribute to its overall distastefulness. Luckily, in this one, it’s just one prevailing qualitative foil that sort of metastasizes into all its remaining otherwise salvageable parts. What is it you may wonder? Despite ending with a couple remedial tracks, overall it’s just…dull.
The opener, “Warning Bell,” features Savill’s twee, ethereal vocals that come off corny and callow over a thin, anemic sheet of what could only be called shoegaze if it wasn’t desiccated of its gooey fuzz and warmth. But it must’ve made the grade because the next song, “Michael,” continues on with it as pretty much an identikit of the last. He whimpers to the same slow and oversimplified chord progression that could’ve passed for a second movement of the same song. Both are equally without flesh, their rickety scaffolding wobbles, all its beams waterlogged. Pathos insipid. Nothing wants to be appreciated, even if groped for.
It sounds pretty much the same as how he puts it in the sadder tune “Distraction” that comes up next in the queue. Seemingly addressing the torpid previous tracks while serving as a pretext to itself, Savill sings, “I’m already broken, you can’t break me.” Gold star to the meta aspect of voicing a song’s own plight through itself. The despondency then breaks up into the dreamier drone of “All Gone,” though its only embellishment is a muted arpeggio as the song seems to progressively slow, gathering tedium through its flatness, risking nothing and becoming languid through its lack of ambition. The acoustic demos the songs started out as is all that can be heard. The other collaborators’ touches fuse and sever in a way that works, but they’re only flimsily laid on top—maybe it’s the awkward mixes that make this so—while the vocals kind of stand to the side rather than being immersed in.
“Looking for Exits” is somewhat livelier though criminally similar to all the tracks that preceded it. It plays in the same formula, now with a certain confidence to it. The acoustic guitar strums as consistently as it’s wont to do and straight into the even slower “October,” made ever more impossibly slower by its faraway steel guitar, not once relenting as the lead sparsely embroiders the soundscape. All the proverbial boxes are checked again: adhering to the uniform, safe from any adversity.
The last two tracks of the album’s eight finally wipe the monotony. The second-to-last, “Hiddensee,” lords over all its emaciated retinue. It’s still in line with the pervasive melancholy of the album but finally has some shape to it and is markedly uppity in the instrumental hook—a blue-and-orange electric guitar melodically picks in kinetic strokes, and a sour-candy synth lick passes at its tail end. The final track, “Destroy Us,” (previously released as a single along with its own music video) refreshes with more much-needed melody avant le fin and is the last of the two late reprieves from the deadpan asystole of unchangingly linear guitars and stodgy garnishes.
For all Beachy Head’s gaucheness and (little) glory, it’s not unreasonable to presume any given album is going to possess a fair (or any) amount of filler unless it’s plain exceptional. But most of the time, people have to suffer through it, and on the second spin it’s less painful, maybe it begins to take on a cultic charm. They’ve discovered something that’s not orthodoxly likable, but it’s something that turns out to be worth plodding through the sludge to get to green pastures. Beachy Head is not that kind of album. A couple of songs that aren’t so worthwhile to arrive at once past all the other poppycock could stand ten toes down if they were individually released as singles. It’s just that, at the end of it all, it’s obvious what choice was made at its namesake cliff. The scenery only lasts a second.