“I got a boring apartment, and all of the drugs / I’m fucking dangerous,” Declan McKenna sings on his third album, and you can well believe him – few recent major-label albums have sounded this authentically psychedelic.

The artwork for Declan McKenna’s What Happened to the Beach? Photograph: AP

The 25-year-old Brit broke through in 2015 with debut single Brazil – which had a second flush of TikTok’d fame in 2022 – and he scaled up to maximalist glam on second album Zeroes, which, for all McKenna’s natural melodic gifts, felt a little overworked. As if advised by someone skinning up to stop fretting and chill on a bean bag, What Happened to the Beach? goes with its own odd flow. It somewhat recalls the Beatles’ White Album in the way it breezes quizzically from one good idea to the next like a stoned magpie, and there are also heavy shades of more recent pop-psychedelicists such as MGMT, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and (on Honest Test) Devendra Banhart.

Individual songs have melodies as pleasurable as a sugar cube on the tongue, but the album’s biggest strength is the overall feel of a strange, undulating high – indeed, a more more accurate replication of a drugs experience than, say, hazy reverb. One minute McKenna is totally baked and itchily paranoid, a “cheesecake junkie in constant grief … picking at my pimples on my plastic skin” on Breath of Light. The next, on the LCD Soundsystem pump of Nothing Works, he’s sweatily euphoric. But just as lyrics about football corruption gave Brazil’s jangles a steely tone, McKenna’s lyrics are far from stoner nonsense as he writes compellingly about self-doubt and indirection. These are quintessential third-album woes, but he’s droll with it, as on Wobble where he prepares for a holiday in Tenerife: “I used to cry at home all night / now I might in the sunshine.”

In the end, the feeling is of someone desperate to cut through not just his own torpor, but a whole US-UK monoculture he complains of on Elevator Hum. He certainly achieves it with this dissociative, distinctive album.


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