In 2018 Beach House released their seventh and latest album, simply titled 7. The album is darker than previous releases and was approached with a sense “rebirth and rejuvenation” after the release of their 2017 B-Sides and Rarities. Unlike previous albums, 7 wasn’t written with live performance limitations in mind and the arrangements are deeper and more layered than on past releases.
In this article, I’ll look at the synths, effects and production of two tracks from 7: the dreamlike Black Car and the brooding Lemon Glow. The article is a follow-up to my recent Beach House Synth Sounds article which focused on their Depression Cherry and Bloom sound. I’ve recreated all the synth sounds from these two songs using the Arturia V Collection synths and Xfer Serum, and the presets are freely available to download at the end of the article.
The dark and mysterious-sounding opening arpeggios from Beach House’s Black Car are one of the highlights from 7. Although it sounds like a simple pluck patch, there’s a musical element at work in the patch that makes it sound more complex than it really is. Each note of the arpeggio line is harmonized with two extra voices, one an octave below and the other 7 semitones up, which creates the illusion of 3 simultaneous arpeggio lines. The 7 semitones up voice adds interesting harmonies and doubling of certain notes as the arp pattern ascends and descends. Check out the basic sequence below and notice how the simple up/down pattern of the original sequence (in red) becomes obscured when the extra voices are added,
- Original Arpeggio 00:00
- Harmonized Arpeggio 00:00
To create the patch you’ll need a synth that has sine wave oscillators. Plenty of modern digital synths have sine oscillators; for my remake I used Xfer Serum. In Serum I’ve set Osc A as a sine wave from the Basic Shapes wavetable, Osc B as the same but with Pitch Semitone set to +7 and the Sub Osc as the -1 octave sine wave. The original sound has some slight chorusing so I set Osc A and Osc B’s unison voices to 2 with a low amount of detune (0.03 in Serum).
Once the oscillators are set up, use an amp envelope with no sustain and a snappy 800ms decay with around 500ms release. You want the sound to be nice and plucky so play with the decay curve. You’ll also want to leave the filter off for this patch as sine waves don’t have any harmonics to filter out. For effects/processing, use a saturator to add some light overdrive harmonics to the sound, compression with a fast attack to emphasise the pluckiness of the patch, and reverb to add some space. Here’s what the patch sounds like:
- Black Car Arps 00:00
The arpeggios are next accompanied by one of Beach House’s trademark string patches. Just like in my Beach House Synth Sounds, Part One article I’m using Arturia Solina V for the sound, this time with a custom patch. The strings are slowly faded in, and I also used some EQ cuts in the final mix to cut some of the more resonant frequencies and clean up the sound.
- Black Car Strings 00:00
- Black Car Layered 00:00
The bass part is a chunky detuned analog synth sound and I used Arturia Mini V to recreate it, though any Moog style bass will be able to create the sound. I started with Mini V’s default patch 3osc, which is three detuned sawtooth oscillators spread across 3 octaves. Set the filter cutoff frequency to 1500 Hz and amount of contour to 20%. Then set the filter envelope’s decay time to a long 4.9 seconds and set sustain to 0. This leaves us with a nice analog sound that slowly darkens as the note is sustained. For the final remake, I processed the sound with Soundtoys Decapitator for saturation, Soundtoys LittlePlate for a small amount of reverb and I added a sub-bass layer below it to fill out the mix’s low end.
- Black Car Bass 00:00
More layers are introduced as the song builds in intensity and these include a tremolo synth and acoustic guitar arpeggios. The tremolo synth is hard to hear clearly in the mix, but I was able to roughly recreate it in Arturia Prophet V by focusing on the filter settings and the LFO modulation. The patch uses sawtooth waves detuned by only 2%, a glide time of 530ms, a filter cutoff of 223 Hz with a long decay envelope with a depth of 9. The LFO modulation is applied to the filter with a rate of 10.6 Hz and depth of 0.14. Here’s what it sounds like:
- Black Car LFO Pad 00:00
Lemon Glow was the first song released from 7, as well as its first single. The song opens with a unique pitch-modulated synth part that plays throughout the song, gradually accompanied by layers of distorted slide guitar, choirs and fuzzy bass sounds.
The main sound design element of the main keys in Lemon Glow is the pitch-bending effect. Every time a chord plays the pitch quickly glides up then immediately back down. There are a few ways to do this such as using the pitch-bend wheel or resampling. The most fun and immediate way to do it is to use one of the synths modulation envelopes to directly modulate the pitch so the pitch-bend will automatically happen on each chord. Some synths have auxiliary envelopes that can be assigned to modulate anything, including pitch, but for older analog-style synths you have to repurpose the filter envelope for this.
I used Arturia Mini V in polyphonic mode to recreate this patch, as it has a flexible modulation matrix and tri-saw oscillators. Polyphonic mode is activated with the switch on the right and turns Mini V into a fully-fledged polyphonic synth. Set oscillators 1 & 2 to tri-saw waveforms detuned by around 2%. Tri-saw waves are less rich sounding than regular sawtooth waves, and match the electric keyboard sound in Lemon Glow.
Setting the filter envelope to modulate the pitch in Mini V is done by setting the mod source to VCF ENV (filter envelope) and the destination to VCO123 FM (frequency modulation for oscillator’s 1, 2 and 3). The modulation amount is set to 0.066 and the filter envelope has an attack of 65ms, decay of 98ms and no sustain.
Lastly, I used Ableton’s Amp effect to further shape the tone, boosting the higher frequencies and roughening up the sound.
- Lemon Glow Dry 00:00
- Lemon Glow Amp 00:00
The previous pitch-modulated synth keys are layered with two different pads throughout /Lemon Glow/. The first is a single sawtooth oscillator patch with the filter closed most of the way and some chorus to add movement. The second layer comes in with the drums at 0:38 and has a more open filter and lots of stereo widening to push it into the sides of the mix.
- Lemon Glow Pad Thin 00:00
- Lemon Glow Pad Wide 00:00
- Lemon Glow Layers 00:00
At 2:02 in Lemon Glow a digital choir is introduced. This likely came from a sample-based digital synth and for the remake, I used the classic Choir patch in the Korg Legacy M1 plugin. I added EQ to brighten up the sound as well as stereo widening to match the mix in the original track.
- Lemon Glow M1 Pad 00:00
Lemon Glow also features noisy, high-pitched resonant synths as well as interplay with guitars. At 0:25 a triangle wave patch with a high resonance filter and tons of delay is introduced. A similar sound but playing much higher and noisier plays during the bridge at the 2:15 mark, and for this, patch I used Decapitator in ‘Punish’ mode to add plenty of overdrive. This track is panned hard-left and plays a call-and-response part with a hard-right panned slide guitar which is equally distorted and washed in delay. To create the fuzz guitar I rolled the tone pot on my guitar down to 0 and used the Death By Audio Echo Dream 2 guitar pedal, which adds delay, fuzz and pitch modulation – perfect for this style of noisy lead guitar. Here’s what all the individual parts sound like:
- High Triangle Synth 00:00
- Fuzz Guitar 00:00
And finally, here’s the full remake of Lemon Glow. The drum samples are from Black Octopus Samples again, the chorus on the bridge clean guitar is the TAL Chorus effect and the fuzz on the bass synth is from two stacked instances of Ableton Pedal, one on the Distort mode and the other on the Fuzz mode.