Longtime JOVM mainstays Beacon released their highly-anticipated and long-awaited fourth album Along the Lethe today 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 Lethe 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 four 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,” a track that saw the pair effortlessly meshing genres with 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.”
“Harm,” Along the Lethe‘s fifth and latest single is a slow-burning roller that’s one-half slinky UK garage and ambient synth pop featuring skittering and clattering beats, atmospheric synths and twinkling bursts of piano paired with Mullarney III’s achingly plaintive vocals singing lyrics wondering about the uncertainty and unease of life during the pandemic — and how disease invades the body and mind. And as a result, the song evokes a creeping anxious sort of dread that should feel familiar to all of us.
“During the pandemic, ecology was an invading force and ‘Harm’ is a manifestation of this psychology,” Beacon’s Mullarney III says of the song’s themes. “The influence of disease on human civilization is eternal, but nothing has been more impactful than Malaria. It is estimated that half of all humankind—everyone who has lived—has died of the parasite whose name translates to “bad air.”
Directed by Dalena Tran, the accompanying video for “Harm” features a burst of flickering, dreamlike computer-generated images. From a lone mosquito to a fisherman to the wider public at large, the video presents a seamless trail of communicable disease that’s poetic, unsettling — and uncomfortably familiar. The video ends with a seemingly idyllic lakeside view with undulating and flickering colors and geometry while a grim and rigid piano melody fills the air with the tension of a known but unseen danger.