sat 02/03/2024

Album: Declan McKenna - What Happened to the Beach? | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Declan McKenna - What Happened to the Beach?

Album: Declan McKenna - What Happened to the Beach?

Enjoyable third album from Brit singer-songwriter boasts bubbly songs and wibbly sonics

Detecting welcome wonk-pop grooves

Declan McKenna is that rare thing, a popular contemporary male British singer-songwriter whose work tends to avoid solipsism, relentlessly projected vulnerability, and general whining. He writes interesting songs about an array of subjects, some even political in intent, and revels in expanding his musical palette.

His last album, Zeros, almost made it to the top of the UK album charts despite  or, perhaps, because of  over-slick, epic production. Happily, his third is a cheerfully offbeat adventure in the possibilities of studio recording. McKenna sounds like he’s having a ball.

Put together in Los Angeles with Lana del Rey/Arlo Parks producer Gianluca Buccellati, it’s a sunny and stoned-sounding affair. Even the songs that aren’t hooky have a likeably woozy, squelchy, marijuana-psychedelic production. The default setting, a bit like Kesha’s last album, is sketched acoustic songs that have been filled out with bedroom-sounding synths and gloopy, atypical instrumentation.

Comparatives that spring to mind along the way include Django Django, Beck, Steve Mason’s last album, George Harrison’s contributions to LSD-era Beatles, and there’s a slight whiff of those singers who overdid it in the Sixties then released head-fried solo material at the start of the next decade, Skip Spence, Syd Barrett, Keith Relf, et al.

Dreamy songs such as the wibbly, twinkling “Honest Test” and catchy, clonky, sweet “Breath of Light” especially fulfil the latter descriptive, but there are also numbers with more drive and energy. These include genially self-critical, driving indie-new wave highlight “Nothing Works”, the joyously immediate “Sympathy”, and “I Write the News”, which combines both modes, beginning as a zonked strummy thing then bursting into a chunky breakbeat pop-hop stomp.

Late on in the album, the chugging, contemplative “It’s an Act” is pleasingly honest about the occasionally forced, performative nature of McKenna’s chosen profession, but What Happened to the Beach? feels uncontrived. It’s often light and bubbly, but also rich in ideas, and sonically entertaining.

Below: Watch the video for "Mullholland's Dionner and Wine" by Declan McKenna

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters