It’s one of the quieter release weeks of the year, so it’s time to take a look at what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Pop and R&B group easy life have been building momentum in their home country of the UK with a series of mixtapes, recently being named Best New British Act at the 2020 NME Awards, and have now arrived with their debut studio album. life’s a beach isn’t as easy and breezy as it can seem on the surface, with some darker thematic undercurrents creeping in behind the summery sheen as the album progresses, but it’s the kind of music that the details can get somewhat lost in as it all comes together under a cheesy, feel-good, poolside party-pop vibe. Although there are quite a few undeniably catchy moments of guilty-pleasure enjoyment scattered throughout here, some of the more blatantly derivative tracks and amateurish songwriting bring an active listener out of the illusion. It’s perfect music to blast at the beach if you’re not paying attention – likely some of the best Spotify-core background music you’re going to find – but don’t expect too much more.
The project opens with “a message to myself,” which essentially functions as a highly theatrical overture of sorts to the album, beginning with a complex and virtuosic keyboard solo before frontman Murray Matravers and his heavily pronounced East Midlands accent takes the mic and starts emoting to the stars about being yourself. The track speeds up and slows down with reckless abandon, completely disregarding structure as he flips back and forth between spastic rapping, flips into a weak falsetto, and drawn-out, extra-dramatic sung notes as if the message was anything but the most surface-level and overdone lyrical notion you can possibly communicate at this point. It’s a strange opener, because most of the greatest tracks here succeed not because there’s a ton of ambition, but because the cringier ambitious parts are overshadowed by harmless, unmistakable fun.
The track “have a great day” eases in with languid slide guitars and crashing waves, Matravers’ half-mumbled vocals making it sound like he’s singing the beach-centric chorus while reclining back in a lounge chair – but it fits the world the band is building up, and is especially endearing in a world that’s just longing to get outside again. The track captures the exhilaration of a fleeting summer romance with one of the more memorable melodies here, and it didn’t take much effort to get there. The track “ocean view,” on the other hand, begins to introduce the band’s shamelessly uninspired side, as they craft a sequel to TikTok smash hit “death bed (coffee for your head)” right down to directly singing the chorus of another song that already exists with the original vocal pitched up in the background and an awkward white rapper (who calls himself a “sexy beast” in 2021) in between.
The track “skeletons” injects some much-needed energy into the early goings of the tracklist, and it certainly stands out amongst the pack for being one of the more experimental risks that pays off in a big way. As a rapid drum fill that stays around as a recurring motif interrupts the trancelike vibe of the previous track and whisks the listener into a nightclub a couple steps away from the beach, the slowly strummed guitar chords are now interspersed throughout a cascading dance-pop synth palate and a more prominent bassline, Matravers’ over-enunciated and theatrical raps finally finding a world that better matches their energy as he delivers some paranoid verses about not becoming another one of a mystery lover’s skeletons in the closet, detuned background vocalists capturing the eerie energy associated with the bony creatures. “daydreams” is another track that’s almost more of a cover than something original, lifting the melody from the similarly-titled Aretha Franklin melody and pitching the Queen of Soul up in the background, but it’s easier to ignore in this case – mostly because the original is so great, Matravers’ cool and calm poolside lounger vocals return and some of the techniques they used to chop up the sample make things more rhythmic and interesting. The blaring horns of an interlude introduce the album’s darker second half, starting with “living strange,” the only point where the lyrics get dark enough that the tonal clash with the party-starting instrumental gets awkward and uncomfortable, Matravers speaking on suicidal ideation to offset a grating and off-key performance on the chorus.
life’s a beach winds down with some of its more nondescript and messy tracks. “compliments” has a decent and memorable hook as Matravers yearns to find better communication in his relationship, but the remainder of the track can’t seem to click together, some staccato synth-piano chords rebounding haphazardly off of a wordy flow in the verses that never sinks into the pocket of the song. “nightmares” is actually three years old at this point, stuck near the end of the album and throwing off the cohesion – except from the standpoint of being an upbeat and happy-sounding track about dealing with emotional struggles. Built around a jazzy sax riff, the track is a little more energetic and attention-grabbing than the rest, but the abrupt beat switches and Matravers’ vocal shortcomings on his more impassioned vocal performances are some glaring drawbacks. The track “lifeboat” is the highlight of the album’s back half, containing what might be Matravers’ best rap verse on the album – which he says he was channelling the confidently cheesy energy that Andre 3000 puts out. The knocking percussion in the forefront of the mix, twinkling music-box piano and catchy guitar riff add to one of the band’s better full commitments to indulging a bit in the ridiculousness of their bright, feel-good sound. “homesickness” feels like a bland pastiche of overdone millennial pop tropes, while “music to walk home to” sees the band deciding that the final thing the listener hears should be what they have confirmed is a freestyled drunken ramble about encountering some crazy characters on a walk home that goes on for far too long.
Like most debuts, life’s a beach is a wildly inconsistent journey that shows some moments of potential and others where its clear that easy life haven’t quite figured out who they want to be yet. It might just be the accent, but the band reminds me a bit of The 1975’s early work – we’ll see if they morph more into their experimental side, in the same way, or dive fully into dance-pop bliss.
Favourite Tracks: skeletons, have a great day, daydreams, lifeboat
Least Favourite Track: living strange