When releasing a long-awaited album it’s common for artists to say that they’ve written and recorded a wealth of material that didn’t make the record. For most, this extra material drips out as bonus tracks on deluxe editions, or B-sides tacked on to singles, and sometimes is released as an album in its own right.
The last is the road far less travelled — and for good reason.
Usually there’s a reason songs weren’t included in the beginning: they might not fit the album’s sonic template, maybe the album needed to be shorter, or maybe they just weren’t very good. Recording sessions resulting in a plethora of great material usually end up as double, or even triple albums.
But albums constructed from leftover recordings are rarely great or approach the original’s quality.
So Beach House’s release of Thank Your Lucky Stars, a mere nine days after they announced its existence, and only a couple of months after their long-awaited fifth studio album Depression Cherry dropped, is a very unexpected and unlikely move.
The band has been at pains to describe it as “not a companion to Depression Cherry, or a surprise, or b-sides” (most would beg to differ on the surprise element) and only state that “it was recorded at the same time as Depression Cherry, but for us, it’s very much a different record”.
For a band sometimes criticised for not willing to risk experimentation, two albums released within a few months of each other could be seen as verging on self-parody. But over the course of five previous albums they’ve achieved a remarkable level of consistency — and its new album lives up to that.
Written at a later point than the previous album, Thank Your Lucky Stars does take on a life of its own — albeit one still within the comfortable definition of a Beach House album.
All the trademark Beach House elements are apparent — Alex Scally’s reverb-drenched plucked guitar lines, Victoria Legrand’s earthly mysterious vocals, the dreamy tunes that seem to float along for eternity before drifting off into nothingness.
The songs on Depression Cherry strived for a grander sound, often layering echoes and distortion to achieve a warm, fuzzy, mellow vibe. But what sets Thank Your Lucky Stars apart from its predecessor is its worn intimacy; despite the albums respective titles, the latter is a much darker and hollower sounding record.
The instruments are more pared back, the guitars a little more distinctive and the arrangements more prone to experiment with dissonance and distraction.
Album opener Majorette starts off with a quick crack of drums before being swallowed up into the familiar surroundings of delicate guitar arpeggios and synth chords. Common Girl builds on a carnival-like keyboard riff and delicately floats along without really taking off.
Elegy To The Void builds on a swirling keyboard riff that ends drifting into a long-winded guitar solo as Legrand chants a solemn warning against a looming fall into nothingness (“To your sons and daughters/ Bending at the altar/ Don’t you disappear in the mirror again”).
The elegiac Somewhere Tonight closes the record with a hushed and melancholic waltz that highlights the grandeur of Legrand’s vocal style. It’s a beautifully tender moment, reminiscent of the classic old pop songs of the 1940s and ’50s.
Perhaps more time would allow Thank Your Lucky Stars to be judged on its own merits, but regardless of how it was released it still holds its own. The album never quite reaches the same heights as the best of Depression Cherry, but it could actually be a more completely realised album.