Review: Declan McKenna – What Happened To The Beach?

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Declan Mckenna // What Happened To The Beach? // Out Friday 9th February 2024

Declan McKenna is an artist riding the crest of a wave right now. Zeroeshis last studio offering, hit the dizzying heights of number two in the official albums chart, only beaten by a little London beat group calling themselves ‘The Rolling Stones’. Mckenna’s cult following has swelled, and there is regular clamour for him to be higher and higher up festival bills nationwide.

What Happened to The Beach is a mostly optimistic and sunny affair: assembled in LA with producer Gianluca Buccellati (Lana Del Rey, Arlo Parks), the record seeks to capture the sun-drunk Californian stoner energy of something like Lorde’s Solar Power, with mixed results.

‘Wobble’, the opener, is full of studio trickery and as the title may suggest, synthy and vocal wobbles. Dropping the needle on this record may give you the impression that your pre-amp is off, but it’s actually just the intriguing production values used – this cut is the tip of the iceberg in terms of production.

The record evolves through ‘Elevator Hum’, a stronger cut, grooving to a sunny indie-pop beat, with a lovely, mazy extended outro which fully embodies the Californian sunshine lifestyle: the rays bleed into this record at points and at times it is an absolute delight.

‘I Write The News’ is intriguing; it feels almost like a Beatles medley, starting akin to ‘Blackbird’ and winding through ‘Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour with a faux-acid theme going on throughout. The psychedelia elements appear borne of inane studio trickery however, rather than an inherent desire to push boundaries.

Following lead track, ‘Sympathy’, is latest release, ‘Mudholland’s Dinner and Wine’, and ‘Breath of Light’, which shake off some of the studio experimentation and lead into The Strokes-inspired single, ‘Nothing Works’. This is a fun and bouncy indie number with an infectious atmosphere of summer, and a fuzzy, euphoric bassline. It is exactly what you would be hoping for from a new Declan McKenna record, with shades of sonic growth and the sense of an indie pop rout.

‘The Phantom Buzz’ follows a similar path, and as we enter the final act of What Happened To The Beachthere is a real sense of excitement and anticipation. The double play is a great slice of what this record was expected to be, the buzzy indie pop is unbridled fun and custom-built for singing on shoulders in burning British sunshine, but this energy is not seen throughout the majority of the albumThere are shades of Courting here, and signs that this could be a play to appeal to a broader listener base.

There has to be respect and space for artists wanting to reshape their sound and break new ground, which is what McKenna has tried to achieve. There are moments of brilliance, but often overshadowed by overproduction and peculiar studio decisions, in the third chapter of the 25-year-old’s career.

Words: Charlie Brock

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