Declan McKenna gets weird on What Happened to the Beach?

by Kayla Anderson

Declan McKenna gets weird on What Happened to the Beach?

British artist Declan McKenna has been at the forefront of modern music for some time now. His first album What Do You Think About the Car? features songs included on every 2017 indie playlist, and Zeros has rocked summer festivals years after its release. Now that he’s figured out what happened to the car he can’t help but wonder, What Happened to the Beach? The result: a beautiful fever dream of diversified sound. McKenna leads us into a new sonic world, and I, for one, am glad to be invited.

Leading track “WOBBLE” features catchy guitar strumming, a groovy beat, and McKenna’s vocals echoing “I used to cry at home all night / Now I’m out in the sunshine,” setting the tone perfectly. He is opening himself up in a way never heard before. One of the many singles “Elevator Hum” continues this type of messaging saying, “I want you to be free / To be happy.” McKenna’s bubbling positivity is utterly contagious.

In traditional Declan McKenna fashion, “I Write the News” touches on British issues like inflation and high crime rate. Although McKenna isn’t a self-titled political artist, social awareness is a lyrical staple — his most popular song “Brazil” unpacking the inherent corruption that accompanied the country’s decision to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup despite rampant poverty. McKenna wrote the song when he was just 16 years old — now, at 25, his unwavering condemnation of injustice is encouraging to see.

Among a string of singles, “Sympathy” holds a special place in my heart. As the leading album single, this was released in early July of last year. Although I was wary upon first listen, hearing the song live at a Lollapalooza Aftershow had me sold. In reference to the music video, a fan threw a paper mache seagull on stage which McKenna gloriously held up in true “Lion King” fashion. If this wasn’t enough, hearing it on the Bacardi stage at the actual festival sealed the deal. The performance was high energy and fun, exactly what McKenna’s music is all about. “Mulholland's Dinner and Wine,” a personal favorite, and “Nothing Works” further prove that McKenna can consistently make bangers.

Continuing through the tracklist, “Honest Test” is utterly groovy and concludes with drums that rival “Danger Zone.” “Mezzanine” sounds like a song you listen to driving a car with the windows down in early August, a scene I will absolutely recreate come the summer. “It’s an Act” is a lyrical standout saying, “It’s always like you to sing the happiest song” and “It’s not like you to mention how you feel.” While McKenna sings passionately, he does not usually write personal and emotional songs. Seemingly self-reflective, this song is refreshing to hear. Rounding out the album, “4 More Years” sounds like you’re sitting in a church pew while a choir of McKennas serenade you. It’s weird and I love it.

As a listener, it’s heartwarming to actually hear when the artist is having fun making the music. In each and every moment of What Happened to the Beach? McKenna is having an absolute blast. While the tracks feel slightly too disconnected at points, this album is truly a musical mosaic. What is lost in audible commonality is recovered in thematic continuity. McKenna’s fans have grown up alongside him, and they should not be surprised his sound is also developing. This album is eclectic and free, and I cannot wait to see where McKenna goes from here.