The potential to grow apart from our partners, or even to grow apart from ourselves while in a relationship, is the fractured emotional landscape from which Brooklyn downbeat RnB duo Beacon draw inspiration on their debut The Ways We Separate. Fusing this emotional sincerity with a textured electronic palette that’s just as richly drawn – soulful vocals, powerful deep melodies and driving beats that are close to club ready – they’re responsible one of 2013’s biggest surprises so far, in terms of its “shock and awe” power to shake you in its wake.
Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett already tested the waters last year with two EPs, also on Ghostly International, exploring the same rocky themes. The Ways We Separate is a considerable step up though, in terms of pushing the musical and emotional template to its absolute limits. Recalling the moody dramatics of Boards of Canada, or James Blake’s soulful approach - Beacon have done an impressive job of carving out their own musical territory.
It’s this unique sonic space that’s responsible for much of the album’s emotional impact. Beacon’s synth melodies are a marvel; rich and thick with melancholic ambience, swelling and wilting in tune with the emotional heart of the songs. They grab you by the heartstrings as soon as the motifs of the opening Bring You Back rise into the mix, and don’t let you go.
The abrasive counter to these melodic elements though are the fractured RnB components that amble on the bottom end. When the album’s first beat drops, it’s a proper bass-heavy RnB shuffle; there’s always a thick, heavy wobble to underpin Beacon’s moody dramatics, and while on paper this might sound musically out of key, in practice it makes for a startlingly effective contrast to the album’s sad emotional desperation, gifting it a certain uniqueness.
Feelings Gone makes a reappearance from their For Now EP, and it’s Beacon’s most focused and defining moment; it’s basically the template from which the rest of the album could be developed, and the haunting sadness that swirls up, intertwined in the synth melodies, is nearly overpowering on first listen. Though while it begins deep in melancholy, it lifts eventually into the euphoria of a 4/4 beat, delivering the album’s sharpest dose of dizzying emotion.
The other homerun of The Ways We Separate is how it’s digitally synced to the heart of Mullarney’s vocals. While he can’t quite match the technical range of Beacon’s soundscapes, he compensates with all of the heart and soul he pours into it. You’ll find clichés in the lyrics if you dig too deep, but the power comes from those dashes of words, phrases, that really do evoke the painful emotions that accompany broken love and communication breakdown. Between The Waves is the strongest thematic moment, painting the powerful analogy of soundwaves falling out of phase with each other. "I know all the ways we separate, where we start to fade at different frequencies... I can compensate, try to fill that space, only we suffocate."
By the time we reach the concluding Split In Two, we’re going over old ground; musically and thematically. Overall, Beacon can’t extract a complete dramatic arc from of the tale they’re telling, and The Ways We Separate looses its focus at times; staggering around confused, like one of the album’s distraught protagonists, separated from their beloved.
These rough edges are forgivable though in such a seductive product. Like the flaws in the face of the one you love, it’s the imperfections that make them even more perfect. The Ways We Separate is one of the year’s most unexpected leftfield electronic accomplishments; Beacon smash open the damns with an ocean’s worth of sweet electronic sorrow, and it’s an album that deserves to be discussed, recognised and remembered.
Title: The Ways We Separate LP
Label: Ghostly International
Tracklist01. Bring You Back 02. Feeling's Gone03. Between the Waves04. Drive 05. Overseer 06. Late November 07. Studio Audience 08. Headlights09. Anthem 10. Split in Two
Our Rating: 8.5/10