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Declan McKenna

Review: Declan McKenna – What Happened to the Beach?

Declan McKenna has made an exciting return with his sunny new record ‘What Happened to the Beach?’ which boasts some of his best work to date and will have listeners hooked from the very start.

The 25-year-old, London-born singer-songwriter has been going from strength to strength and has been aiming for the heights of musical royalty since winning Glastonbury Festival’s ‘Emerging Talent’ Competition back in 2015. His debut EPs Stains and Liar got the ball rolling in 2016, and he’s since worked his way through the ranks with two renown albums in 2017 (What do you think about the car?) and 2020 (Zeros). McKenna has been appearing at multiple festivals across the UK for many years, most notably Boardmasters in 2022 and Reading & Leeds Festival in 2023, performing an abundance of festival anthems including The Key to Life on Earth, British Bombs, and fan favourite, Brazil. His forthcoming third album, produced alongside Gianluca Buccellati in Los Angeles, promises to be the best of the bunch, with the rockstar explaining how the record is “An introduction to a new world I’ve created.”

The first offering of the album is the track WOBBLE, a cleverly constructed opening piece which wastes no time in throwing listeners straight into the driving seat of an indie-rock extravaganza. It encapsulates the distinct, acoustic guitar riffs found across much of McKenna’s material, and creates a warm opening to a summer soundtrack. You’d expect it to have a feel for a huge live track, one which guarantees to get crowds bouncing early. This track even sees McKenna himself question, “What Happened to the Beach?”

We are faultlessly transitioned straight into Elevator Hum, the second single preceded from the record, which was undoubtably a solid selection too. It’s audibly pleasing, as if one is sipping a cocktail on the beach. The chilled-out groove of the coolly played guitar ricochets throughout the number and develops the undying excitement of summer which fans connect closely too. McKenna is a lyrical genius, and this track does not disappoint; “Because I just want you to believe, just like me”, a unifying moment which suggests this anthem may become one McKenna’s most successful pieces.

The following third track, I Write the News, is one of McKenna’s more unique numbers and one which I’d describe as a ‘grower’ after listening several times. The ear-catching acoustic guitar from the very start gradually develops in layers until it becomes a relentlessly punchy piece, which sounds as if it’s being played from an old kitchen radio and sung in a garage rap-battle. It’s worth mentioning the infrequent socio-political references, such as “I know you can’t make sense of my southern views”; words sung with passion and an expression of any struggles he encounters. McKenna has surpassed any prior expectations with this alternative piece, and his confidence is flying.

The first single handed to us on the run up to the record was Sympathy, and it was received extremely well; one of the crowd-pleasers without a doubt. It’s simply Declan McKenna, at his very best; a noble combination of a punchy rhythm and well-worked backing trumpets to round off a joyous and upbeat number. You’d certainly expect to see crowds singing along to this one in the festival fields, as they dance around with their inflatable seagulls and random beach equipment held aloft. McKenna has been playful in the way he’s written this one, with common references to “rollercoasters”, “pleasure” and “discovery”; a profound reflection of how life is full of ups, downs, and unknowns.

The fifth track on the record begins suspenseful and ear-catching, but we soon receive a number full of funk and soul; Mulholland’s Dinner & Wine. It’s a superbly constructed track full of sunshine swagger, as if McKenna sat outside in the sun and let nature work its best to craft this beauty; the soundtrack to some sunset strolls this summer. His message is clear: “I found love for the little things”, a standout lyric sung with perfect directness and reflective of the art of noticing.

The seamless transition to Breath of Light, the sixth track on the record, starts to build up to the incoming urgent numbers that follow. It’s a unique-sounding bit of material which really shows that McKenna is at the peak of his powers; an underlying electronic rhythm mixed perfectly with an abundance of unusual, punkish sounds, including that of one breathing; it’s a real success.

The order that the tracks have been placed feels all-too perfect, especially as we reach the majestic duo of Nothing Works and The Phantom Buzz (Kick in), two real standouts of the record. The placement of these two upbeat, punchy numbers is expertly executed, as the sheer energy brought from Nothing Works is perfectly mirrored in the following track, a restless euphoria that energises fans superbly. They’re two blistering numbers for the indie-rock ultras, which bring out the most Inhaler-esque noise so far on the record; The Phantom Buzz (Kick in) in particular, is a track that will prove to be a revelation to those who come across it when listening for the first time. They’re both evidence of the sheer hard work that’s been put into the record and make for excellent summer anthems.

The record begins to conclude, with Honest Test being the first of the final four numbers on this remarkable record. The underlying piano and acoustic guitar throughout the track makes for a more simmered, laid-back feel, and one which may reflect emotion in McKenna through lyrics including “Don’t you try and take my good love from me.”; the track appears to be a plea for honesty in relationships. The slower tempo in this one foreshadows the closing sequence of the record too, with the combination of that signature voice and the effortlessly cool guitar solo towards the end of the track rounding off a truly exquisite piece of material.

We’re not finished there, as there’s further twists in the everlasting tale. We’re gifted another playful, upbeat track, Mezzanine, which would undoubtably have festival crowds bopping to the distinct backing beat. The combination of the infectious rhythm and the addition of the trumpets to the dreamy guitar synths have created a certain mood here, one with potential to connect closely with fans; it’s a real success.

The record closes out with a track that’s clearly built with layers of raw emotion, but still containing that distinct sound of Declan: It’s an Act. A slower, moody tempo paired with emotive, and somewhat heart wrenching lyrics such as “Truth is, I miss you like hell”, closely connects the artist to his fans as he sings straight from the heart; they too may have been in his position. The track draws to a close with a perfectly crafted combination of emotional synths and a dream-like rhythm that you’d expect as the credits roll after a film in the 1990s. To put it simply, it’s a beautiful track.

A closing interlude titled 4 More Years follows not far behind, a different length to McKenna’s previous work, sitting just below the minute mark. It’s a calming continuation of that dreamy atmosphere created at the end of the previous track, filled with echoes and sleepy vocals, and caps off a truly sublime record.

McKenna will be aiming to smash the success of his previous album and claim his first Number 1 with this truly unmissable record, ahead of a huge upcoming year. His UK & European tour runs through the spring, and he has already been announced at multiple festivals across the UK too, most recently Boardmasters in Cornwall. The London-born ‘dream-pop meets indie-rock’ showman will be preparing to boast some of his best work yet; catch him if you can!

4.0 rating
Total Score
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