Arctic Monkeys vs. Beach House: a Conversation on Indulgence

WRITTEN BY HENRY STANDAGE (@HENRYSTANDAGE)

             To take part in the indulgence of an Arctic Monkeys record, is really to take part in indulging the thoughts of Alex Turner — the often cryptic and eccentric front-man of England’s most enigmatic band of the past 15 years. Turner’s thoughts can go from idiosyncratic punk edginess, to cerebral thoughts on the state of modern culture in the span of a sentence. The last Arctic Monkeys record ‘AM’, came out in 2013, and felt like the perfect culmination of the progress the band had made over the years. Filled with catchy hooks from top to bottom, whether it was the wailing questioning on the chorus of “Do I Wanna Know?” or the fed up confrontation on “Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, the album had a perfect balance of Turners unique quirkiness and the bands signature anthem-rock.

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In the lead up to the their new album ‘Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino’, a large part of the excitement was what the band would have to say about the world’s current state of affairs. Such is the usually the case with enigmas as insightful, articulate and strange as Turner. Is he aware of the music streaming monopoly? Or 3D printing? Or Trump? And if he is, what does he have to say about them? It certainly doesn’t lessen the mystique that the typically boyish looking Turners now looks like hasn’t ruled out the possibility of an aged down Billy Ray Cyrus getting to play him in the movie about his life.

As the old saying goes, “one for them, and one for you”. If ‘AM’ was the Arctic Monkeys giving fans their most radio-ready, consumable record, then ‘Tranquility’ represents a total act of hedonism for Turner. The album is set in a smokey hotel lounge, on a human inhabited moon colony in the future with Turner committing to the character of the lounge singer. That’s not my interpretation, or a joke. This is the world to which the Arctic Monkeys have decided to take us to. It’s the type of music that would fit perfectly in the score of a Stanley Kubrick film, especially “A Clockwork Orange”. Uptown piano notes lay the foundation for most of the songs (Turner was given a piano 2 years ago for his thirtieth birthday, inspiring him to get back into playing — as the origin story for this album goes) while hazy guitars and understated drums occupy the background space of the songs allowing Turner the space he needs to muse freely.

The lack of a single preceding the album is entirely unsurprising, even on first listen. However, on further digestion, tracks “Star Treatment”, “American Sports” and “Four Out of Five” stand out as records that are as impressive and interesting as anything the band has ever done. The smokey, jazzy atmosphere of the album stays consistent across its 41 minute run time and by the end, you do feel transported to Turner’s world. He routinely touches on the absurdity of humans obsession with technology, such as when he pokes fun on the title track by crooning “Technological advancements really get me in the moOoOooOd”. Unfortunately, the project suffers more from the lack of a change-of-pace interlude than any album in recent memory.

While the album will undoubtedly disappoint fans less inclined to repeated listens , it also marks a wonderful, strange new territory for the band. Masterfully balancing Turner’s naturally nonplussed persona while fully indulging his starry-eyed imagination, you get the sense that Turner might be inherently narcissistic enough to one day lose the plot, it’s just that he’s not bothered enough fame to ever let it come to fruition. As time passes, ‘Tranquillity’ will stand up as a cohesive, unique piece from one of Britain’s most ethereal minds at his creative apex.

Conversely, some bands never feel the need to take an abrupt left turn in their artistic pursuits. ‘Beach House” the dream-pop duo from Baltimore, have been unleashing perfect summer daydream music over the course of their previous six albums, with only minor thematic and sonic tweaks. It comes by no surprise that their seventh album — conveniently called “7” —  represents no bold departure from the calming, spacey tried and true ‘Beach House’ formula. Over 11 sprawling, intimate tracks the album takes you back into the cozy cosmos that the duo always seems able to lull you back into exploring. Listening to a ‘Beach House’ album is like the adult version of having a bed time story read to you by your parent; you can pay close attention, but what matters most is that your comfy and at peace. Unlike Turner, where the fun is all in the details.

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‘Beach House’ really hit their stride as they close out the album with arguably my favourite stretch of music released this year through tracks 8–11. They don’t get points for reinventing the wheel, but they manage to make the record feel unique in an already polished discography, while still maintaining the signature Beach House feeling.

‘Arctic Monkey’s’ are probably a bit more popular than they are critically adored, and ‘Beach House’ are probably a bit more critically adored than they are popular. But, while they occupy completely different spaces in the cultural landscape — they both see the album as paramount, and the rubric from which artistic accomplishment is graded. On ‘7’, ‘Beach House’ adjust their sound, but only enough to make it feel fresh, rather than stripping it down top to bottom. ‘Arctic Monkeys’ on the other hand, have clearly spent these last five years clearly changing and growing, barely resembling the band that once busted through the doors of pop-culture with the iconically catchy “I Bet That You Look Good on the Dance Floor”.

Genuine artists at the height of their gifts provide a welcome break from the inconceivably long and grotesque stream-thirsting projects from pop and raps biggest names these days. New projects from Migos and Post Malone have a combined run time of 169 minutes and 42 tracks , despite neither artist having particularly much to say across 20 combined tracks , let alone 42. By way of comparison, the new Beach House and Arctic Monkey’s projects combine for 88 minutes and 22 songs. Whatever the reception to albums such as ‘Tranquility’ and ‘7’ may be, Arctic Monkey’s commitment to designing and adventuring new spheres of music, and Beach House’s latest trip to their musical well, are something to appreciate.

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