Declan McKenna Creates a Trippy, Experimental World All His Own in 'What Happened to the Beach?'

Declan McKenna's third studio album, What Happened to the Beach?, marks what will inevitably seen as a cornerstone in his ever-shifting musical identity, leaving behind the focused introduction of his 2017 debut and the cosmic scope of 2020's excellent space-rock effort Zeros for a decadent body of work full of expansive exuberance of growth, maturity, and experimentation with the perfect blend of politics, polished production, and warbled richness. This album sees McKenna harnessing his energy and turning it inward to dissect his sense of self and encourage listeners to gain confidence in their identities.

The opening track, "WOBBLE," is a high-pitched leisurely tune with plucky guitars, washing, and production coated in nostalgia; McKenna sets the record straight and takes the changes in his stride. Then, the sleek transition into "Elevator Hum," one of the album’s singles, is polished, a testament to the album’s shining production. The track is a glossy, sunny, and nostalgic piece of art beautifully textured with whimsical synths and drawn-out vocals mixing flawlessly with upbeat brass solos and a resounding bass that ties the track together.

The record's lead single, "Sympathy," provides a potent albeit jarring transition into this chaotic world. The song articulates truism after truism, especially on lines like, "If you don’t speak your thoughts aloud, you just feel them forever." Fans knew they were in for a delightfully specific, vulnerable, and honest ride, asserting that "you don't need to be clever." The unorthodox track asks listeners to let their stupid and carefree sides shine through, not to overthink everything they do, and, ultimately, to live their lives as their truest selves. As McKenna plainly yet sentimentally puts it, "Make peace and discover."

“Nothing Works” perhaps best exemplifies life's myriad of ups and downs, with a dash of career analysis adding to a sense of fun that remains very much intact, also perfectly epitomized in the insane music video that accompanies the track. This chaotic offering summarizes a mindset that occupies its own space in a faultless discography and showcases a rarely-seen self-awareness.

Other standout track songs on the album include the neo-psychedelic "The Phantom Buzz (Kick In)" and the quirky "Honest Test," which boasts a plethora of falsetto vocals, subtle piano backing, and funky bassline, and the celebratory "Mezzanine." With its plucky guitars, horn hooks, and reverberating vocals taking center stage, the track is coupled with a simple melody, which, while catchy, steers well away from being overly simplistic.

The last impactful track before descending into album closer “4 More Years” is “It’s an Act.” The effort is a soft confessional about playing pretend. Over melodic harmonies, McKenna sings, “The truth would like to see you cold dead and buried and / The truth is I miss you like hell.” The song’s final, drawn-out hum feels like a perfect culmination of the album, but then the record keeps going and ends in an audial avalanche.

Lauded as the voice of Gen Z, McKenna is always at the forefront of the ever-changing musical landscape. He’s not afraid to innovate and constantly push the boundaries of his music, all while using it to make a statement on current happenings in the world. He took a risk with this third record, creating something fun yet wonderfully composed that sounds radically different from anything he's produced prior. Now, he's reaping the reward with an album that almost every listener, old or new, can appreciate.

Listen to What Happened to the Beach? below:

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