Beat Connection – The Palace Garden (2012)


Debut LP from acclaimed (at least in my book) chillwavers Beat Connection, The Palace Garden.

I like chillwave. It’s such a casual genre that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is usually lightweight enough to be consumed at any time without any serious commitment as an easygoing listening experience. Such was Beat Connection’s debut EP Surf Noir, an absolute classic chillwave gem in my eyes; the lyrics were repetitive and uncomplicated yet perfectly suited, there were pop inspired synth hooks aplenty and genuinely great beats and continuity throughout. I was excited for this, their first full length album, because it meant chillwave was still alive and I was looking forward to what these guys had done to the sound.

I want to like this, I want to love this, but there is something holding me back. I think it’s great that they’ve refined their sound and have moved on, abandoning the extensive use of Vocoders and dialling back the overbearing synths, but that over-the-topness was exactly what I adored about Surf Noir. Tracks retain consistent melodies that are engaging throughout, bringing in some minimal lyrics along with floaty instrumentation and assorted background textures (field recordings, party chatter etc), but they really lack punch.

That’s not to say that it’s absent entirely; the title track blows the album right open near the start with really great synth beats giving it a powerful groove, but it tapers off very rapidly, with tracks taking a much more minimal approach for much of the rest of the album ahead of it. It takes a long time to get that groove back, bringing back that middle of the party feel as opposed to the after party. Some beats later (“Trap House”) are very reminiscent of their older, catchier pieces like “Silver Screen”; while these new tracks are lighter and airier, they have a similar melody and underlying characteristics.

It’s at “Foreign Embassy”, towards the end of the album, that I realise one of the major problems; the replacement of the previous guy behind the mic. Previously there was a silliness, an anti-serious sound to the vocals – that’s difficult to define – that has been amputated. They aren’t high-pitched or as casual anymore and it’s disappointing. “The Other Side Of The Sky” reconciles itself a little with some weird flangers and up-pitched vocals; this is more like it, but its delicate tinkles and guitar just aren’t meaty enough.

“En Route”, the finale, does need some credit though; it really is excellent. The longest Beat Connection track yet at nearly 8 minutes is also one of their best; typical sparkly synths, random samples, gorgeous and meaningless lyrics all coalesce and swirl around each other, rising up and down before winding down in the last few minutes as the music begins to slur and lose momentum. Sadly, its greatness is too little too late, the damage is done.

I guess this review is somewhat biased in that I came into this album with some unreasonable expectations on the sound; in reality the production is good and the sound is surprisingly consistent, but it lacks a lot of the energy and carefree attitudes they once held. Colour me disappointed.