Indie pop debut puts life on pause

This morning I stood in line to get into Whole Foods. It was raining and cold and I was not aptly dressed. My Birkenstocks were collecting raindrops and I looked out into the sad parking lot. A life without people, without touch, without adjectives. Enter Chicago indie pop band Beach Bunny. 

“Honeymoon,” Beach Bunny’s debut album, was released on Valentine’s Day of this year. It feels like it was written on another planet. Its sounds are often dissonant and always vibrant; listening is like looking into a kaleidoscope, a shifting array of images. Sometimes these images are solemn, like watching water lap across the shore. Against this backdrop, singer Lili Trifilio coaxes herself out of a broken relationship and into the dreamy promise of a new crush as she expounds on love and hate, jealousy and self-affirmation. Motifs of heartbreak and renewal are refreshing in a moment where it feels as if life is on pause.

There’s an intensity to Honeymoon that complements this kind of life. The album races forth with a speed that is distracting and commanding and cultivates acceptance of the current reality while simulating another one. In the opener “Promises,” a steady drum beat pulses alongside Trifilio’s breathy voice, gentle and luring. The tempo quickly builds and Trifilio breaks into a yell: “Do you ever think of me?” She exclaims the simple question over and over. The song does not indulge this aching insecurity but finds momentum in the pulse of a high hat, Trifilio’s youthful voice and an energetic guitar riff. While the album is bound in uneasy love, it is buoyed by sonic exuberance.

“Are you out there? I’m still here/I wish that when I said your name you would appear, ” Trifilio croons in “April,” a song that swims in doubt. Her voice climbs until it collapses, caught by a bouncy guitar riff that soothes an unseen longing. “I’m not overthinking but I think about you a lot/And lately I am just an afterthought,” she sings, as if she’s falling from a plan only to find she can pull a parachute herself. We see her crawl to the edge of emotion until she pulls back completely and saves herself in a kinetic beat. 

Each catchy song is like a jewel, reflecting the light you shine into it. Trifilio’s lyics are sometimes idyllic (“More to me than a daydream, you’re my color scheme,” sun-soaked “Colorblind” begins) but at other moments are caught up in a reality that isn’t as colorful as fantasy (“I’m sorry too for wanting you/Just let me know I’ll change the channel,” comes next as “Colorblind” fades from sunny to sad). “Racetrack” is a slow ballad about recognizing a relationship is over. “Rose colored lenses eventually crack,” Trifilio sings, her voice wispy and accompanied only by a piano, “but if you left leaving I’d let you right back.” While other songs lay out a path to catharsis, only “Racetrack” never gets there. “I always wind up in second place,” she finishes, not resentful but swallowing her fate.

To an audience wracked with anxiety and loneliness, there is something comforting in Honeymoon’s depiction of a flawed relationship, flying through emotions as quickly as a chord changes. With lyrics like, “You love me, I love you/You don’t love me anymore, I still do,” in “Rearview,” the album becomes ruthlessly human. We never get a clear narrative, an easy and clean break. Instead we get the muffled, fuzzy form of being a person. Of longing for someone after they’re gone, of aching to be good enough so that they don’t leave in the first place.

Music often serves as escapism, and Honeymoon plunges me outside of this moment of isolation. The electricity that hums throughout the album reminds me that even as our realities are upended, there is room for not just survival, but for life.

Before we existed in a global pandemic—or before many Vassar students were made aware of it, at least—I boarded a flight to California for Spring Break. On the plane I read Carmen Maria Machado’s hauntingly beautiful book, “In the Dream House,” and was caught by one phrase: “We can’t stop living.” I read this while flying above the Rocky Mountains, the snow-covered peaks both monstrous and miniature. I turned to my friend Annika as we took in a completely new scene, felt the strangeness of hovering above the earth, both connected and disconnected from reality. We have to live, even when we can’t recognize the terrain beneath us. We have to dance, play music, fall in love, daydream. We have to find closeness, somehow stay connected to the space we occupy and the people who are far away— even when it feels like reality is fading from resemblance.

“Every moment I fall to pieces/Every moment I fall apart,” Trifilio professes in “Colorblind.” These words evoke a desolate landscape. But the surrounding sounds are anything but bare—there’s a thumping bass line, a stream of guitar that carries the message to a higher octave. It just depends on how you listen.

While life right now feels empty of adjectives, I can think of so many to describe Honeymoon. Colorful, sugary, fiery, invigorating. In listening, I am reminded that certain essentials of humanity—hope, heartbreak, connection—won’t disappear.

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