Nowadays, we’re awash with information. It comes from every which way, altering our everyday routines. In such an age, it’s nice to not have to put thought into things. Along the same lines, it is satisfying to find works of art that you can simultaneously enjoy and not think about.

“The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg,” the first proper album from South African pop group Beatenberg, is an album that furthers this idea. Released in 2014, the album is a compilation of stories—of youth, of bittersweet happiness, of nostalgia—and is one of the most innovative pop albums released in recent memory. It’s equally evocative and disruptive, hypnotically blending elements of Afropop and indie heartbreak, all while subtly applying layers of endearing naivete. It’ll make you smile without thinking; when it concludes, you’ll want to listen again and attempt to understand how you could be so easily hypnotized by something that seems, on its face, so banal.

The band acknowledges the ghosts of twenty-first–century love on songs like “Facebook Apologia”; recalls a fantasy on “Ithaca” in which, after going to upstate New York, a lost love is found in the library; and, on “Pluto,” nostalgizes about a girl meant to be forgotten and a planet that begs not to be. Lost love is the most predominant theme on the album; the sadness that features in the album comes largely as a result of the combination of songs. Together, it’s as if the band has projected their feelings on the world around them—the flowers, rivers, and planets—and the only thing to be asked is what such a world would look like if things went differently.

On “Scorpionfish,” for example, lyrics like “Nothing helps / Months and years / Nothing earthly / Will allay my fears” have a sort of bittersweet melancholy attached to them. We get the sense that the situation is hopeless; but, finally, there is some closure in actually making sure the world knows that.

There’s something to be said for listenability on an album like this. Every song has the potential to stand out, with sweeping, simple instrumentation a constant. The band’s sound is similar to what Vampire Weekend sounded like circa 2008, before they got famous, refined their sound, and, well, grew up. “The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg” has an air of youthful, loose exuberance; when we peel that—and the album’s sound instrumentation and lyricism—away, we’re left listening to a raw type of innocence that only young adults know.

 



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