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  • J. Dylan White

Album Review: Beams - 'Requiem for a Planet'

Crafting landscapes of sound as vivid as their lyrical paintings of Earth’s scenery, Toronto-based sextet Beams presents a tapestry of human experience on their latest release, “Requiem for a Planet,” exploring sorrow, disappointment, hope and love on a thoughtful, emotional offering.

In a press release, lead vocalist and songwriter Anna Mērnieks-Duffield notes, “‘Requiem’ is about grieving the loss of the ‘planet’ we were promised as kids…It’s also about acceptance of this fact, and finding a way to dream up and realize better futures.”

The LP is often soaked in this gloom, with occasional interruptions of renewed energy and outward hopefulness. The outlook presented in the record is not bleak or hopeless, to be sure, but rather mourning the loss of the reality that could have been. It is a deliberate and reflective album that presents a carefully constructed narrative and set of ideas it wishes to explore. Nothing in this release is without intention or occurs on accident, and it has a particular set of emotions it seeks to elicit.

A heavy, morose nostalgia and longing steers the record, and this serves as a catalyst to encourage listeners to help seize the world Beams presents as a possibility rather than discourage or dishearten them into hopelessness.

“Childlike Empress” opens the album with a melancholy, bluesy waltz drenched in angsty noir as it samples musically, lyrically and tonally what can be expected during the record’s runtime. Closing with a lengthy verse of spoken-word dictation, Mērnieks-Duffield opens a window to the despair of the “empress,” saying, “the nothing gets to her / the sleeplessness, timelessness / wanting to curl up, dig to the bottom / finding there is no bottom / only swirling void.”

The tempo gains upward momentum with “Starlight,” as the dueling vocals of Mērnieks-Duffield and Heather Mazhar hauntingly echo the track’s title in an immediate contrast to the methodical pace of “Empress.”

“Make It Real” expounds upon a motif of travel or exploration that appears in glimpses on the release as the protagonist determines they are coming home, presumably to a lover, and journeys a great distance to do so. This track contains some of the most poignant lyrical imagery on the record and reinforces the notion that “Requiem” aches to be enjoyed during a long drive in a misty rain, creating an ideal sonic and sentimental background to absorb the album’s messaging.

Soft electric guitar arpeggiation reminiscent of bands like American Football or the Midwest emo subgenre makes a subtle appearance on “Shadow of a Shadow,” and a hard, overdriven guitar chord dovetails with a violin following the rises and falls of the chorus line.

“We are Blood” is a delicate ballad dedicated to the commonality of humanity, opening with the statement “I’ve only known you from afar / and you’ve only seen me on your TV screen / but we are blood.” A soft, subtle kick drum can be heard near the auditory horizon of the track until the conclusion when the rest of the instrumentation dies away, pumping and thumping in the rhythmic fashion of a heartbeat to further cement the central idea and provide a solid foundation for everything else built upon it.

After a methodical analysis of the previous songs’ themes, “A.W.I.L,” the lead single, is a cathartic release of pent-up energy and emotion coming at a perfect stage of “Requiem” to offer something rare and fleeting, but certainly welcome on the release. Driving, repeating guitar riffs match the broken and pulsive delivery of the word “love” in the chorus. The song finds the desirable location of not interrupting the thematic flow of the album, while simultaneously preventing listeners from suffering fatigue or boredom from repetitious or analogous tracks. 

“Heat Potential” follows as an epilogue of sorts, borrowing some similar musical elements from “A.W.I.L,” like the delivery of the chorus, while also slowing down slightly to a more reflective rate.

“It’s All Around You” is the most individually unique track on the album, presenting an extremely warm, full, grandiose presentation not found elsewhere, while also possessing a hard-lined edge with an oxymoronic electric guitar riff that is simultaneously cutting and fuzzily overdriven.

A larger chorus of background vocals, with bassist Craig Moffatt and violinist Lee Rose making an appearance, attributes to this atmosphere as well, adding a slight dash of doo-wop to a flair of '70s psychedelic rock.

The pomp is stripped away in “The Thing Is,” a freewheeling, flowing song that floats on currents of wind as the first verse soars with “On top of the world / on top of the flow.” Mērnieks-Duffield introduces a banjo on this track, lending to an extremely intimate, folksy ambience leading to the conclusion of the record.

“Intangible Holds” ties together the ideas explored in “Requiem,” both musically and thematically, in a satisfying and appropriate way. The track focuses on refusing to give in to feelings of despondency or discouragement due to the world around us and ends in the same way the opener did: spoken word dictation as the protagonist fades into darkness, seeing figures of her loved ones.

Despite its somber and weighty presentation, “Requiem” doesn’t succumb to the lethargy that is dangerously imminent for albums of this subject matter and caliber. Instead, Beams balances periods of serious, intense reflection with lighter stretches of levity in a refreshing, succinct fashion and a purposeful destination in mind.

The moments of impassioned outburst are deserved and meticulously forged by spans of brooding contemplation, stuffed to the brim with natural imagery of the sun, stars and moon, while leaving a sense of wonder at what lies beyond the “swirling void."


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