REVIEW: Beach House – Once Twice Melody

The music of the American duo Beach House is a vessel for dramatic and cinematic feelings; anything but simple, the deeply layered synthesizers and breathy vocals of the band create a soundscape so dreamlike and meditative that listening nearly becomes an out-of-body experience. Often labeled as “dream pop”, a genre combining pop melodies with dense effects and experimentation reminiscent of 90s shoegaze, Beach House’s distinct psychedelic sound has achieved incredible commercial success. The enchanting melancholia of “Space Song” earned the track 300 million streams on Spotify. In 2022, they return to the world of music with a highly anticipated eighth studio album, Once Twice Melody.

The album is divided into four chapters–– or discs–– which are released periodically. The second chapter was released on December 8th, and the upcoming two chapters are set to be released by February. Judging by the half of the album that is already available, containing stellar tracks such as the surreal title track “Once Twice Melody”, the album is set to be one of Beach House’s best–– both conceptually and production-wise. The introduction of each track is reminiscent of a film score set in space; layered strings and experimental glimmering sounds evoke an atmosphere rich in color, existentialism, and a deep longing for the past. The vague and breathy lyrics, when decipherable, suggest deep retrospection and romantic tragedy. The lyrics of “Pink Funeral” on Disc 1 mirror the poetic artistry of the sound itself:

 

“Once was a fairy tale
Then it all went to hell
Swans on a starry lake
Hearts that were made to break
Tears through a white lace veil”

 

From the relatability of lost love in “Runaway” to the inevitable end of whirlwind fling in “New Romance”, Beach House balances their experimental sound with accessible themes and messages. Their most powerful messages, however, are found less in the lyrics than in the outros and instrumentals; marked by the slow build of reverberating sparkling melodies and fuzzy echoes, the sound of Beach House only seems fitting for observing the uncompromising mysteries of space and embracing the beauty of the unknown. The theme of love paired with the dark magical ambiance creates a stark contrast; while singing about the fallibility of humanity, the music explores a celestial landscape that transcends human matters.

Whether pondering the paradoxes of existence or lingering on a failed love story, Beach House’s ethereal release Once Twice Melody has a track to accompany your introspection. The excitement has just begun–– fans of the first two discs can eagerly await the second half of the album, offering a slower process of enjoying the art form. The first two discs of the EP are currently available on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms.

Just one day after the planned release of the last disc, Beach House comes to Detroit to perform at the Royal Oak Theatre. Get tickets while you can to enjoy the music in person on February 19th–– or, if Once Twice Melody speaks to you, consider exploring the rest of Beach House’s discography.

REVIEW: Funny Girl

Musket’s production of Funny Girl, originally a Broadway musical with Barbara Streisand, has an electric energy that can’t be forgotten. Running for just three nights at the Power Center on Central Campus, it can easily be missed; but, for all musical-lovers and Michigan students within walking distance of the theatre, keep your eye out for future productions at this location and other productions by Musket. The effortless humor and colorful characters of Funny Girl filled the venue with a liveliness that stuck with me even after I left.

I am typically not a musical-goer, as I prefer the believable effects and immersive atmosphere of typical movie theaters, but something about Funny Girl set it apart and drew me directly into the bustling and competitive setting of New York City. Surrounding the life of the awkward, stubborn, yet uniquely charismatic actress Fanny Brice, the musical explores her strenuous rise to fame. We witness her navigate the cutthroat competition of theatre in the Big Apple; we see her embrace her triumphs and mourn her defeats; and, most notably, we watch as she learns how to navigate the complexities of love and family in her gold-gilded life as a star. My favorite aspect of the story— besides experiencing the exciting growth of such an interesting character— is the focus on theater. Watching a musical about musicals adds a sense of realism; the actors are performing a story, but it is a story that is relevant to their own experiences. Many songs are performed in a fictional musical, so watching those scenes in an actual musical theater setting feels completely immersive.

The stellar cast raises the performance to another level. Carly Meyer, who plays Franny, captures the awkward humor and headstrong demeanor of the character perfectly. From classic clumsiness to goofy dance moves, the loud and unapologetic ambition of Franny echoes throughout the venue, as well as her strong and expressive voice. Each cast member brings incredible vocal talent to the stage as well as a specific energy and personality; ranging from the mysterious and wealthy Nicky Arnstein, played by Sohil Apte, to the brashly humorous Mrs. Meeker, played by Gavin Brock, the variety adds to the excitement of the show.  The score is iconic and unforgettable, featuring fast-paced classics and romantic ballads. The live pit orchestra added dimensionality and depth to the lively music. Through the live music and incredible vocal talents, the sound of Funny Girl is magical at the very least.

The relatable and in-touch nature of the subjects of Funny Girl— the awkwardness, the difficulty of love, and the blinding allure of success— creates a production that is far from fantasy. Funny Girl enticed me with its characters, drew me in with its realism, and captured my heart with its nostalgic score. Next time Funny Girl comes around, or any other Musket production, be sure to grab your $7 student ticket and catch it while you can.

REVIEW: Dijon – Absolutely

Dijon, a rising star in the indie pop/R&B scene and a familiar voice amongst the more underground and experimental artists of the younger generation, released his debut album titled Absolutely on November 4th. Known for experimenting with an array of nostalgic sounds and layered vocals, Dijon has explored a wide range of genres; Absolutely encaptures the sound that Dijon has settled on, fitting his melancholic and expressive voice perfectly. Echoing the influences of Frank Ocean and the emotional pop ballads of the late 2010s, Dijon’s voice is distinctly expressive and flexible. Each song embraces a different facet of a love story and utilizes a messy and raw style to truly capture the beauty of falling in love and the tragedy of falling out of love.

The album begins with “Big Mike’s”, an introduction that gently guides the listener through Dijon’s style. The sound is gentle and slow, soft guitar overlaid by melodic vocals–– it’s a perfect introduction to just how honest Dijon’s music gets. The album’s third track, “Many Times”, is a powerful high-tempo song dedicated to the frustration of dysfunctional relationships. Dijon sings “there you go again, head low, putting on a show again… It’s the holidays, how come it always ends this way?” The lyrics are accessible and relatable but combine with the complicated instrumentals to create a deeply emotional piece. The track transitions quickly into the slower drums of “Annie”, in which Dijon sings in a delicate high-pitched voice that pleads his lover to stay. The album ventures through the various stages and emotions of a relationship, following this pattern of ups and downs; it remains consistently engaging, the emotionality never wearing down. My favorite track is “Rodeo Clown”; Dijon’s voice is warped and distorted to capture a sense of breaking down as he calls out that his lover is “missin’ out” repeatedly. This drives home the pleading, raw energy of his music. I feel as if I’m watching a desperate argument between lovers and listening to a rebirth of Frank Ocean’s Blonde all at once, and the colorful atmosphere of it is incredibly satisfying in a largely superficial and corporate music industry.

Throughout the album, Dijon plays with experimental elements that could be seen as risky–– most of the songs lack a distinctive chorus, so the album could hardly be described as catchy. However, that is not Dijon’s purpose; the music is a raw and unfiltered dedication to pure love and loss and the immature emotions that are found in between. Unlike much of the mass-produced and money-grabbing music today that lacks any distinctive emotion or originality, Dijon is a rare voice that echoes pure honesty and feeling. He embraces his sound and does not apologize. I enjoy Dijon’s Absolutely, not for its radio-playability but for its refreshing strength.

You can stream the album for free on Spotify and it is also available on most other popular streaming services. I encourage anyone interested in diversifying their music library to give it a listen, or at least explore Dijon’s more popular and catchy tunes, such as “Skin” and “Nico’s Red Truck”.

REVIEW: The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch is a display of director Wes Anderson’s uninhibited ambition, manifesting itself in a whirlwind of drama and colorful characters. The film does not stick to a single narrative but rather tells three stories in long segments. Each story is a vignette written by a journalist for The French Dispatch, an international outpost of an American newspaper that operates in a dreary French town by the name of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Everything is mundane— even the name of the fictional town translates to “boredom-on-apathy”— except for the dedicated journalists, the invigorating stories they release to the world, and the eccentric people involved in the stories. Thus the typical Anderson irony begins. This film is, at its core, a celebration of journalists and a love letter to all things literary and artistic. It is an Anderson classic: upbeat, artistic, and a bit pretentious, but its unfamiliar structure makes it feel fresh.

Each scene is rich with deadpan humor, rarely outright saying a joke but implying it in every corner of the frame. The juxtaposition of the still-faced, sharp-tongued characters and their chaotic predicaments against the colorful backdrop feels unnatural, as is the constant narration that overlays the stories, but they both add to the unique nostalgia of the film. Rather than experiencing the stories myself, I am being guided through them like a picture book. The visuals add to the book-like atmosphere— black-and-white scenes, entirely animated scenes, and experimental lighting exaggerate the easily-missed emotions. The world is symmetrical, well-color-coordinated, and moving in synchronicity, just as a storybook world should. Wes Anderson’s films stick with me for this reason— not because they are believable in the slightest but because they revive a childlike amusement. The unrealistic twists and turns in each segment are comical and effortlessly engaging. However, the sentimentality of his films is usually amplified by emotional depth. This is where The French Dispatch falters. The three-story structure and quick pace refuse to allow us to get attached to one character for too long or watch the slow development of relationships. I gravitated toward the recognizable faces and quirky personalities (such as the mustache-wearing and disheveled teenage rebel played by Timothée Chalamet) but the characters disappear shortly after they serve their purpose.

The French Dispatch manages to be a sensory feast on top of an exciting tangle of stories but the combination is nearly exhausting. From the hard-to-catch humor to the drastic time jumps, I attempted to absorb everything yet desperately needed to let my senses rest. It is also overwhelming in its organization, as the stories have no connection besides the journalists publishing them, so the film is difficult to process as a sum of all its parts. The French Dispatch is not a casual watch if you want to enjoy all its beauty; it requires patience, energy, and an attention span, and an estimated two or three watches.

As a sum of its visuals, script, and diverse storylines, each element of The French Dispatch is crafted in a way that maximizes Anderson’s quirky innocence and childlike fun. Anderson may have been trying to emphasize too much of his signature style in one film, resulting in entertainment so constant that it is almost nauseating. The French Dispatch is an exhilarating masterpiece but it is a masterpiece that needs to be prepared for.

PREVIEW: The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s distinctly colorful filmmaking makes an ambitious return to theatres with the release of The French Dispatch. Originally set for release in July of 2020, the film was postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus complications, keeping eager Wes Anderson fans on their toes. One year later, the film makes its long-awaited debut. Boasting the whimsical fast-paced storytelling and rich visual aesthetic of Anderson’s previously celebrated films such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch has the potential to become another Wes Anderson classic.

Set in a fictional French town, The French Dispatch tells the story of an American journalism outpost publishing its final travel-oriented issue. The star-studded cast that is semi-consistent throughout Wes Anderson’s films, including Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, is joined by a seemingly endless array of other recognizable names such as Timothée Chalamet and Christoph Waltz. The trailer alone speeds through various visual styles, plotlines, subplots, and complicated relationships that are hard to follow. This is to be expected of Wes Anderson’s films, as his stories move quickly by nature, but it slightly worries me. I am curious to experience how Anderson weaves together the talents with the storyline but I fear that the busy feel could deteriorate or drown out its emotional depth.

Even if the story of The French Dispatch becomes muddled and messy, the film is guaranteed to be a visual feast. About a dozen rewatches of Fantastic Mr. Fox, with its earthy warm tones that are comfortingly autumnal, have solidified my trust in his mastery of visual beauty. Wes Anderson’s signature style is defined by symmetry in every shot and childlike pastel hues that evoke a refined, nostalgic feeling, untouched by the dirtiness and complications of the real world. Every shot from his film Moonrise Kingdom feels torn from the pages of a children’s book. For his more mature films, like The Darjeeling Limited, the childlike innocence is balanced by deadpan humor and ironic violence, creating an entertaining juxtaposition. The French Dispatch seems perfectly capable of spinning all of Anderson’s favorite elements into one, building a world overflowing with picture-book nostalgia and colorful characters. From a cinematographic standpoint, it will not disappoint.

Addicted to the nostalgia and satisfying symmetry of his films, I don’t believe I can truly be let down by Wes Anderson. But, after the long wait, I pray The French Dispatch isn’t trying to accomplish too much in one go. Will The French Dispatch become overwhelmed and oversaturated by its elements, unable to fulfill the artistic prophecy it set for itself?