Declan McKenna cannot be confined – and it’s brilliant

From hit songs like ‘Brazil’ and ‘Why Do You Feel So Down’, to his TikTok-viral version of ABBA’s ‘Slipping Through My Fingers,’ Declan McKenna has been a staple of young indie rock. However, with his latest release, What Happened to the Beach?, it’s time for fans and newcomers alike to acquaint themselves with an updated sound that showcases a vibrant new era of Declan’s career.

It would be wrong to write that Declan’s new record is some eclectic combination of indie–rock–techno–modern music, because that insults the biggest achievement of this project: you simply cannot confine Declan to any genre. One minute there’s influence from The Gorillaz on tracks like ‘I Write The News’ and ‘Breath of Light’, which both surprise and delight as they blend distorted vocals and odd instrumental mixes with slow, pounding lyrical delivery. Next, there’s upbeat horns in ‘Sympathy,’ before relaxing back into the tropical, calypso feel that dominates tracks like ‘Honest Test’ and ‘Elevator Hum.’ It’s playful and complex, with each song creating a world for listeners to soak up, while not overwhelming them with experimental nonsense. 

It’s admirable in and of itself that Declan and producer Gianluca Buccalleti (Lana del Rey, Arlo Parks) were able to create all of these different worlds, but what’s even more magical is how they all fall together in a way that gives the listener a sense of freedom and lightness. This feeling of light was a defining feature of Declan’s first project from 2017, What Do You Think About The Car?, and it persists in this new iteration of his career, which he’s calling “Declan 2.0.” In talking about this record, he’s quoted as saying, “In the past few years, there has been a bit of weight behind making music. I wanted to open up and not worry about things so much. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself in the past when I just needed to drop the intensity a bit and have some fun.” Honestly, that’s the energy we all need as we’re starting off 2024. 

While this album feels light and carefree, it’s important to pull back the curtain and realise just how smart the construction of this record truly is. There’s much at stake within these songs: loads of different instrumental and vocal movements, snippets of a library’s worth of genres, allusions to change, media, and mental health – it’s a lot. The key to the machine is the mix of seriousness and levity, instrumentally, lyrically, and production-wise. On ‘I Write The News,’ it feels like a major critique is coming on with lyrics, ‘I write the news, I know you can’t make sense of my Southern views…’ yet, he quickly plays it off with lines like, ‘The crime is high and so am I…’

Amidst these moments of levity, there’s some confessional lines like, ‘I found love for the little things in life / I’m not satisfied with what I want…’ from ‘Mulholland’s Dinner and Wine’ and the heartwarming ‘I want you to be free to be happy…’ from the aforementioned ‘Elevator Hum.’ There is no Act I and Act II to divvy up the horns from the electric guitar, there is no interlude to alert listeners to a shift in sound. It’s all facets of Declan, all at once, honest and unapologetic, free to be happy – and gosh darn it, it’s beautiful. 

Haiku Review:
Light, joyful, and fun
This record spans many worlds
Incredibly so. 

What Happened to the Beach? is out tomorrow, 9th February. Stream/purchase it here:

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