Described succinctly as “a hike along Grief Mountain with scenic lookouts,” Requiem for a Planet stakes out new sonic territory for Toronto sextet Beams. In opener “Childlike Empress” – a huge song that holds multipart harmonies, spoken-word recitations, and scorching guitar solos – the dark yet vibrant, imaginative and hopeful heart of the album is revealed. “‘Requiem’ is about grieving the loss of the ‘planet’ we were promised as kids. One where it seemed like we were collectively working to create a more positive future for all, and being faced with the reality that this is simply not true. It’s also about acceptance of this fact, and finding a way to dream up and realize better futures,” explains lead vocalist/songwriter Anna Mērnieks-Duffield. “We have every right to be angry and sad. But this is our life. If we live in a constant state of reaction to all of the fear-mongering, then the powers that spread those messages around are winning. We have to fight and make spaces to feel joy and love and community.” 

Recorded by Kevin S. McMahon (Swans, Real Estate, Titus Andronicus) at Marcata Recording—a 200-year-old barn at the base of the Shawangunk mountains in New Paltz, NY—Requiem is one of those spaces, and a world unto itself. Hypnotic vibraphone, purring amps, glistening guitars, and the pull of ghostly violin strings weave intoxicating soundscapes that create a sense of singular intimacy with the listener. There are clear psych-folk and post-rock influences – such as Akron/Family and Grizzly Bear – and much attention was paid to creating a mood, capturing interesting tones, and sustaining an immersive atmosphere. Thematically, Beams have always made music that contemplates both the darkness and the light of the places in which we find ourselves.

Rousing, memorable lead single “A.W.I.L” is a joyous call to arms, encouraging listeners to fight isolation and being driven into despair by external voices. “This is a wake-up call that we as humans are programmed for life—we’re on the same side, and if we could just sit through the discomfort of our differences long enough to see the deep root of love there, the true humanity, we could work together towards justice for each other, and for every being,” explains Mērnieks-Duffield. “We are more likely to fight for the protection of those with whom we share a loving bond, or at least feel somewhat safe with.” “Heat Potential” is a steady and lush stunner, lyrically celebrating a universal inner drive that can help us survive against all odds. A magnetic, fuzzed-out guitar riff launches “It’s All Around You” into a kaleidoscopic, colorful sound-world, blossoming with kinetic percussion and impassioned vocals. The standout track is guided by the album’s governing principle: to make room for joy in music. “‘It’s All Around You’ suggests that if you truly desire something, you’ll be connected to what you need, with the bigger idea that everything we need has always been right here on Earth.”  

Beams have been making and touring music together for over a decade and take their name from the architectural term: the beams that support a building. Each member—Martin Crawford (electric guitars, lap steel), Mike Duffield (drums), Keith Hamilton (vibraphone, singing saw, vocals), Heather Mazhar (vocals), and Craig Moffat (bass)—had been leading and playing in various bands in the scene when in walked Anna Mērnieks, igniting a catalyzing spark. Beams was born, formed now around her songwriting and lead vocals. The band’s modus operandi goes like this: feel the love, plan the work, work the plan.

Requiem is anchored by the natural world, and, as such, feels like a trip through the glorious planet Beams is dreaming up. Mesmerizing atmospherics and a deep sense of place create a foundation for the band’s clear voices, carefully considered lyrics, and improvisational blazes that build to galvanizing emotional catharsis. “Something that helps me to cope with grief is to open my eyes to the natural world around me, the more-than-human world, to receive their lessons and messages,” says Mērnieks-Duffield. “It helps me to remember that every being has a different perception of its universe, and that life and death are both mysteries that face every living thing.” Ultimately, Requiem suggests that the power of love and humanity can help us cope with these mysteries, and that we can make a difference by coming together and realizing our unique and collective power. The album succeeds in its mission to make room for joy and community in music.