Beacon has come a long way since being the much-lauded R&B/hip-hop mash artists they became known for over their No Body EP. The influences that drove their earlier work, including last year’s The Ways We Separate, like the sexiness of ’90s rhythm & blues, are still present on the five-track sampling, but they’re pushed deep underneath the surface of Beacon’s new sound.
No Body is a smart, if not particularly rich, swerving towards electro-pop: the duo, Thomas Mullarney III and Jacob Gossett, have significantly dialled back the sex appeal and bass-bombing in favour of an ever-slightly moodier production and down-turned gazes. In a post-The Postal Service era, the sombre tone of No Body is its primary strength. Gone are the days “Beacon” and “ambient” might be put into the same sentence; although the Boards of Canada-inspired chirps are still present, the concise electronic delivery backing Mullarney’s lush vocals is anything but droning.
No Body does its best to sound full, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that, yes, Beacon is just two people. While songs like opener “Fault Lines” are pointedly stark in a positive light, the title track seems to be screaming behind the submarine-sonar melody for more instrumentation behind it. What techniques made minimalism work so well for full outfits like London’s The xx, either aren’t present or not fully fleshed-out in this EP. Mullarney’s lush whispers, which range from erotically enticing to nearly sociopathic, surf on a meticulously-rendered but no less see-through digital soundscape.
The electronica portion of the record, however obviously inspired, is remarkable, even when it trembles under the load of supporting songs like “Minor Structures”. Rabid drumming and arpeggiated chords bordering on techno territory mask sweeping synthetic background flutters and hum, while Thomas Mullarney III’s trademark lush croon is at its seductive peak. It’s the kind of song that makes whatever the singer is saying sound like a good idea—and with Beacon, that enters lemming territory.
“Better Love” may be the most frustrating song of the album by merit of its placement alone. Following the twitchy beats of “Minor Structures”, the track’s emphasis on a slow and pulverizing bass wobble instead of an up-front melodic progression feels unnaturally sluggish. As the song that pays most respect to Beacon’s past releases, it’s telling to say it’s the least interesting track of No Body. Meanwhile, closer “Only Us” wraps up the EP in strong form with the closest thing the duo has ever gotten to a crescendo, with a chiptune tone toying with Mullarney’s sober poetry.
Beacon’s No Body EP is a refreshing and quite unexpected shift of palette for the two Brooklyn musicians. While the limitations of performing as a duo are sometimes exacerbated by their decision to move in a more pop-oriented circle, their gloomy songwriting lends itself extremely well to their particular niche of electronica.