More often than not, when an artist releases a well-received debut album, they can perform it in front of their fans not long after they've shared it with the world. Beabadoobee's Fake It Flowers, however, appeared in the early days of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Instead of touring, Bea Kristi spent her time at her parents' house confronting her past: as her school's only Filipino student, she struggled with discrimination and depression so intensely that when she was 17, she left -- and started writing songs. On Beatopia, Beabadoobee makes the most of this time of reflection and healing. Named for the imaginary world she created when she was seven, it's a musical sanctuary where she shares her deepest secrets, tries out new sounds, and revisits some familiar ones. Instead of her first full-length's brash alt-pop, Beatopia's up-close vocals, gentle acoustic guitar, and percussion hark back to her bedroom pop roots, and tracks like "Lovesong" show she can still craft a down-to-earth yet exquisitely wistful mood. However, the album also reveals how much her music has grown since the "Coffee" days. Kicking off with the psych-folk prologue "Beatopia Cultsong," Kristi delves into swaying bossa nova on "The Perfect Pair," lush, bongo-driven pop on "Broken CD," elegant chamber folk on "Ripples," and plush trip-hop beats on "Fairy Song," a lulling-then-noisy reverie where she imagines herself looking back on this time in her life. She uses her music's references to the past more pointedly than ever on Beatopia, sounding nostalgic not just for the '90s but also last Tuesday night on the standout "Talk," singing "we go together like the gum on your shoes" over barbed and bittersweet power chords. On songs like this and "10:36," Kristi uses crunchy guitars and high-pitched basslines so confidently that they sound like Beabadoobee instead of decades' worth of musical footnotes and allusions. Fans looking for more of Fake It Flowers' sass might initially be disappointed, but Beatopia's quiet confidence and well-rounded musicality feels like Beabadoobee is laying the groundwork for a long and varied career while remaining true to herself.
by Heather Phares