According to the Ghostly International website, Beacon’s Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett “met at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where they were studying sculpture and painting respectively.”Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their visual arts background, Beacon’s debut LP comes with a fully-formed aesthetic. Everything about Beacon seems consistent and carefully considered, from the stark and attractive cover art for The Ways We Separate, to the photos of Mullarney and Gossett that you can find online, to the palette of sounds they draw from. This is not to imply that Beacon’s music is overly conceptual, however—The Ways We Separate is a smart, accessible album of electronic pop.
Beacon’s sound is comparable to that of contemporary acts like The Weeknd or Autre Ne Veut—their music is dark and slick, pulling inspiration from a wide array of genres including dance and rap. Mullarney and Gossett’s bass sounds are round and deep, and many of the songs on this record feature percussive, crystalline highs that give the music an agreeable bounce. Thomas Mullarney’s cool, dispassionate voice is often ornamented with wisps of reverb and echo, while at other times it is wordlessly looped to atmospheric effect. It doesn’t always connect emotionally, but as pure sound it slides smoothly into the mix.
Opening track “Bring You Back”, which the band first released online in February, is a good example of both Beacon’s weaknesses and strengths. The song is a neat retelling of Orpheus’s trip to the underworld to retrieve Eurydice—at its climax, Mullarney implores himself: “Don’t turn around ‘til the other side.” “Bring You Back” is one of the most immediately alluring songs on the album, but it shallows rather than deepens with repeated listens. Later on the record, “Headlights” opens with a sound like humming machinery. A propulsive beat and ethereal vocals enter the mix, giving the song a haunted quality. But it ends too suddenly, short-changing its ample strengths. The following track, “Anthem”, feels curiously fragmentary, despite a very beautiful moment near song’s end when the bass drops out and Mullarney sings over gleaming highs: “I’ll stay ‘til the light pours in/ Fills this room/ Illuminates your skin.”
The record’s two most notable outliers, “Overseer” and “Late November”, work better. “Overseer” opens with a frantic, sinister repetition, and features an uncharacteristically harsh vocal. The song expands nicely as it progresses, becoming sneakily pretty in its second half. “Late November”—the only lyric-less and beat-less song on The Ways We Separate—is a short, delicate piece that serves perfectly as the introduction to its successor, “Studio Audience”, perhaps the strongest song of the set. “Studio Audience” opens with a relatively staid first half, then crescendos into a more urgent coda as Mullarney sings (humorously, to my ears): “If it’s what you need I can turn it on/ Just like I turn it off anytime I want.”
Album closer “Split in Two” ends with two of the most dynamic minutes of the record. First, the catchy figure that opened the track makes a return, with its pinging, electronic tones (which sound like a mixture of vibes and koto) repeating a rapid-fire melody. Then a driving bass line picks up volume as the beat fills out. Thomas Mullarney begins to sing: “What you want? You’ll have it/ Whatever’s left still standing,” and soon a second vocal track is layered on top of that, with Mullarney asking: “What can I do to prove/ Everything I had belongs to you?
It’s not an earth-shattering moment, but it feels like a moment nonetheless—and it works quite well as the final gesture on an understated album where flashes of immediacy and catharsis are the exception rather than the rule.