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Cameron Graham
Becoming a Beach Angel Skye Butchard , August 16th, 2023 08:58

On his debut album, the UK drummer and electronic artist offers a digital ode to joy, finds Skye Butchard

Fairground rides, slot machines, and arcade cabinets. Before you grow up and realise they ping and whizz like that to get you spending more money, they’re pure joy machines. They promise endless excitement with relentless movement and colour. Play is blown up into something monolithic and wondrous. As you age, you find less joy in these machines. You’ve learned about addiction and capitalism. You spot all the spew and pee everywhere. The joy feels surface-level. You find joy in deeper things, like friends, family and doing good work, but it’s hard when the world is collapsing.

Drummer and producer Cameron Graham has created a guilt-free joy machine on Becoming a Beach Angel. With his hyperactive and minimal compositions, he rallies for joy on the surface. It’s a reminder to feel good for the sake of it – not avoiding the chaos around us, but opening up to the beauty that exists in spite of it.

He references the naive pleasure of SNES consoles and the euphoric rush of trance music with his blindingly bright synths, which are the heart of these songs. His live drum programming adds a breathless human quality. Graham’s melodies are sugary and optimistic, and his rhythms are complex without feeling like a maths problem. He uses his studied approach to electronic music to strengthen the raw experience of these songs, not to over-intellectualise.

Take opener ‘Empathy’, with its skittering drum passages and overlapping synth phrases, which eventually bubble up in unison like two individuals sharing a moment of understanding. ‘Obedience to Authority Figures’, a rework of a song from his debut EP, is more powerful in its new form. It demonstrates the thrill of his maximal style of minimalism, with synth lines that rise upward and create chills before a single piece of percussion has been hit.

The aptly titled ‘Joy’ is a highlight, with emotional chords that churn in slow motion and stutter at hyperspeed. It’s the kind of joy that makes your skin electric, and causes a lump in your throat for a reason you can’t pinpoint. Composers like Anna Meredith and Lorenzo Senni are experts at this kind of catharsis through speedy buzzsaw synths, and Graham easily joins their ranks on tracks like this.

Despite its intense presentation, Becoming a Beach Angel doesn’t fatigue the ears. There’s breath and space given to offset the moments that overwhelm. ‘You’re Never Useless’ is comparatively breezy, with its cute percussive melodies which remain easy-going even at a sprinting tempo. The only moment of overkill comes with ‘Empathy Interlude’, a retread that’s too overbearing, underlining moments that worked well on their own.

The record’s final third features loose and messy offerings, like a reminder of the chaos that lurks in your peripheral vision Still, there are joyful noises to carry us through. The closing title track floats along with a cornucopia of digital chirps, backed by ear-tickling shakers. Life spills out of the machine, until it runs out of juice. Pop in another 50p and the lights will dazzle again.