Over the course of this site’s 12 year history, I’ve managed to spill a copious amount of virtual ink covering New York-based electronic music duo and JOVM mainstays Beacon. Their third album, 2018’s Gravity Pairs saw the duo — Thomas Mullarney III (vocals) and Jacob Gossett (production, keys, synths) — radically changing their creative process and writing material that was a sonic left turn from their previously released work.
Mullarney III and Gussett embarked on open-ended writing sessions, in which they adopted a more linear songwriting style instead of the loop and texture-driven method they had developed and honed during the creation of their first two albums. The initial demos they wrote were built around piano chords and guitar phrases paired with vocal melodies, which they then edited into a number of different iterations. Doing so allowed the duo to look at each individual version from a multitude of angles and directions.
As they continued through Gravity Pairs‘ creative process, they expanded upon some songs and pared others back. Much like the bending of light through a prism, the abstract, patient and deeply painterly process eventually turned the material they had been working on into a space in which wildly different colors, tones and textures — in the album’s case, minimalist ballads, elaborate pop spirituals and driving dance tunes — can coexist simultaneously and at different speeds.
Interestingly, with each iteration they created, the JOVM mainstays quickly discovered that they could easily expand upon how they presented Gravity Pairs‘ material in a live setting: They could play the album’s material in a straightforward fashion — or they could play that material in a very different fashion that added or subtracted color and shading, depending on the circumstances, their moods and their desires.
While Gravity Pairs found Beacon boldly pushing their sound and approach in adventurous, new directions, the material remained imbued with the vulnerability and yearning that they’ve long been known for.
A couple of years have passed since the release of Gravity Pairs, but the JOVM mainstays have been busy: Back in 2019, they opened for acclaimed Aussie electro pop artist Nick Murphy during his North American tour, which included a stop at Brooklyn Steel. The duo shared a series of stripped down, live studio sessions — and they released a remix album, which featured remixes and edits by Elkka, Helios, and CRi.
2020 saw the release, of a meditative, piano-led take on the Pixies‘ “Wave of Mutilation” inspired by the slower tempo and phrasing of the UK Surf B-side, which showcased the song’s mutability. Just before the pandemic struck, the members of Beacon embarked on a headlining European tour.
Beacon capped off 2020 with the release of “Feel Something,” which saw Mullarney III and Gussett continuing to prioritize the creative process behind Gravity Pairs while painting a surrealistic and disturbing vision of desire, longing and control that feels like a lived-in perspective of a codependent and dysfunctional relationship — with a person or a situation.
Last month, the longtime JOVM mainstays announced that their highly-anticipated and long-awaited fourth album, Along the Lethe will be released on September 9, 2022 through their own imprint, Apparent Movement. The pandemic forced the duo to change their creative approach again but reportedly, the end result is a gorgeous and brooding album meant to make the listener stop and reflect.
The duo wrote, recorded and produced the album during a period of extreme uncertainty in the pandemic, with the band’s Thomas Mullarney III explaining: “I was haunted by this feeling of history intruding on our reality as lockdown descended on NYC, I was reading a book called The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth about the apocalyptic aftermath of the Norman Invasion of England in 1066, written in a ‘shadow tongue’ combining old and modern english. This uncanniness followed me through the pandemic.” Thematically, Along the Lethe is as much about the allure of forgetting tragedy as it is the need to maintain our connections to the past. But interestingly, it may arguably be the most eclectic, expansive album of their growing catalog to date. As the band’s Jacob Gossett says, “It feels like a record without restraints.”
So far I’ve written about three of the album’s singles:
- “Until Next Time,” the first bit of new material from the duo in over two years. The single revealed a fresh, new aesthetic rooted in contrasts: Rumbling electronic feedback and noise gives way to a swirling and twinkling piano-led melody paired with Mullarney’s achingly delicate falsetto, trembling metronomic beats and swirling static, which rises and crashes into Mullarney’s vocals.
- “Can’t Turn Back,” a stunning and seemingly effortless mesh of electronic music genres, timbres and moods centered around UK garage-like rhythms, twinkling synth arpeggios, skittering beats and atmospheric pads while Mullarney III sings of losing himself “in the constant dark” with achingly delicate vocals. As part of an album largely written during pandemic-related quarantines, the specter of hopelessness, uncertainty and struggle looms large — and yet, the song attempts to keep the existential doom at bay, while looking upward.
- “Ostrich” is a mesmerizing piano-driven song featuring contributions from multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson, who contributes fluttering and mournful horns and woodwinds into the song’s gently swelling electronic noise. Inspired by a tuning technique used by The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed and John Cale, “Ostrich” required all strings of every stringed instrument to be tuned to the same note. And with that foundation, Gossett and Mullarney III improvised on the synths and instruments in their studio, which gives the song a hypnotic and dreamy atmosphere.
“Pay My Debts,” Along the Lethe‘s fourth and latest single sees the duo effortlessly meshing genres as you’ll hear skittering trap beats, glistening synth-driven hooks paired with syrupy R&B-like grooves and Mullarney III’s achingly plaintive vocals. “Pay My Debts” manages to convey a core theme of the album, as the song lyrically reckons with the weight of guilt and absolution.
“The title of our new album, Along the Lethe, came from lyrics in the song ‘Pay My Debts.’ The Lethe is one of the five rivers of the underworld in Greek mythology, and souls who drank from it lost all memory of their lives on earth. Forgetting can be seductive, and the Lethe offers a kind of absolution—not in the form of forgiveness, but erasure. The desire to transform the collective trauma of the last two years into a collective amnesia is one of the themes of our new record. The chorus in ‘Pay My Debts;’ alludes to an impending ecological disaster that’s followed the narrator even into Hades: ‘Something in the sky turns black, start another fire, I guess.’ Despite the allure of forgetting, and the Lethe’s metaphysical power to do so, the spectre of the last two years is inescapable.”
Directed by Boy Tillekens, the accompanying surreal, animated video follows a faceless, purple humanoid on a journey from the idyllic, Holland-like banks of a motionless river towards a billowing plume of black smoke across the horizon. “I was picturing a Thomas Hart Benton painting coming to life,” Tillekens says in press notes. “Kind of treating the landscapes as if it’s a character itself — quite surreal, a bit Lynchian.”