German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once used porcupines in winter as a metaphor for human relationships. In winter, porcupines huddle together for warmth, but their spikes are painful to each other, so they retreat. Schopenhauer claimed humans do the same; loneliness forces us into relationships, people invariably hurt us, and we pull away. This process repeats until we find a tolerable distance, what Schopenhauer called politeness. On Beatopia, the sophomore album of beabadoobee, songwriter Beatrice Kristi Laus examines this aspect of human relationships with lyrics that explore the feelings that come when affection and rejection are concurrent.
beabadoobee’s music has always played like the soundtrack to a coming-of-age movie. The debut album, Fake It Flowers, employed nostalgic chords and simple melodies to induce a visceral aesthetic of bored teens in suburbia faster than any John Hughes movie ever could. The bittersweet pop-cum-folk-cum-rock was born and bred online, but Laus has clearly been spending a lot of time in the studio. The 1990s sound of her early work has aged to the 2000s, and lazy but accurate comparisons to Avril Lavigne are inevitable. Thematically, Beatopia is much the same as its predecessor; young people learn about love while navigating life. However, overproduction has swapped the edge for sharpness, exposing the humdrum aspects that were once covered by more innocent recordings.
The opening track, “Beatopia Cultsong”, is an admirable ambient folktronica piece that bends time with its slow acoustic riff and repeated line “Is it me or recently time is moving slowly?” that introduces a disorientated narrator. “10:36″ has one of the loveliest melodies you’re likely to hear all year. The lyrics show Laus isn’t afraid of exposing the darker aspects of her personality, with the confession that she uses people:”You’re just a warm body to hold at night when I’m feeling all alone.” It’s honest writing, but there’s a striking narrative shift when she adds, “you don’t need me as much as I need you”, leaving one unsure who’s chasing who in this porcupine dilemma. The addition of all-out rock guitars is exhilarating, and when the verse and chorus skillfully marry at the end, you can’t help but feel elated. Unfortunately, a song can’t rely on the sum of its parts, and computer flatulence mars the real soul. Even if these choruses are enormous and the melodies divine, beabadoobee’s ascent from indie starlet to pop queen can sometimes feel shaky.
“Sunny Day” sees a processed drum beat give some punch to an otherwise inoffensive coffee-house folk song. “Haven’t had enough to do, but I’m ignoring you,” Laus sings, uncharacteristically letting her British accent slip through. “See You Soon” is an ethereal pop track that succeeds in laying the listener in a bed of moody notions before lifting them up with a soaring chorus. Here, Laus utilizes technology subtly, and all the better for it.
“Ripples” is unapologetically sweetened with lush strings and gently played acoustic guitars that tickle pink, and Beatrice nails the vocals. “The Perfect Pair” is a snazzy bossa nova number that is also as forgettable as last week’s lunch. “Broken CD” is structurally impressive and recalls some of the shimmering intimacy of Stina Nordenstam. Lead single “Talk” is an espresso shot of bubblegum pop-rock that would’ve dominated radio when radio dominated. “Love Song” is a nice slice of milquetoast prime for a Christmas advert, and Kristi is correct when she claims that it is “just another love song”.
Album highlight “Pictures of Us” features charming guitar work and a moving chorus and is undeniable proof of Kristi’s sophistication as a songwriter. Elsewhere “fairy song” bounces along just fine, “Don’t get the deal” sounds suspiciously like “Talk” (though it adds some interesting musical side dishes). “You’re here that’s the thing” is an odd closing track, a folky pastiche that ends the album on a chipper, seemingly ironic note.
Laus was initially troubled by the global success of “Coffee”, the first song she ever wrote. That song became a global phenomenon when Canadian artist Powfu remixed it. Happenstance aside, a track as simple as “Coffee” that slots into mainstream culture isn’t easy to come upon for a songwriter. On Beatopia, Laus seems to be running from the adolescence that gave us “Coffee” while simultaneously drawing inspiration from it. The result is a mish-mash of commercially viable tracks and more whimsical excursions that her fans will cherish but might leave others feeling warm, then cold.