It took me a bit before I truly could appreciate the magic of Beach House’s music. The Baltimore band’s appeal eluded me their first couple records. What I’d heard off of Teen Dream and then Bloom was nice in a passerby sort of way, but I didn’t know what all the accolades were about. What I heard was sort of a slow motion version of Cocteau Twins, but maybe a little sadder.
Then on a whim I bought Devotion at my local record store and things began to make sense. It was a slow motion melancholy hidden under programmed drums and droning keys. Victoria Legrand’s vocals were a little raspy, but contained in them a wisdom of the soul beyond her years. The more you listened the more you felt you were hearing someone’s true essence being relayed through song. Alex Scally built these musical mazes for Legrand to get lost in and ruminate on life and the sadness that sometimes comes along with it.
What I’ve eventually discovered is that Beach House’s music is something that comes across simple at first, but reveals many more depths and layers with repeated listens. Teen Dream and Bloom proved to be little masterpieces, but for my ears Depression Cherry is one of their best. It dials down from their previous records and settles into a slow motion melancholy that comes to a beautiful and crushing finale with “Days of Candy”.
So as not to fall into a rut of sorts, Scally and Legrand went into their new album 7 with louder ambitions. They brought in producer Sonic Boom(aka Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember) to add some weight to the band’s bottom end. The result is a harder Beach House, but one that still retains the dream quality of their sound that they established over ten years ago with their debut. As with each of their previous records, every spin of 7 reveals a deeper beauty and a more complex emotional weight than before.
The first thing you notice with Beach House’s excellent new LP is it’s louder. They’ve taken their sleepy sound and have added a metallic sheen, a byproduct of Sonic Boom’s deft sonic touches. Album opener “Dark Spring” jumps from the speakers like My Bloody Valentine, but smoother and with less blunt force. I never thought Beach House needed to be louder and more gruff in their delivery, but “Dark Spring” makes me second guess that. There’s a vitality here that wasn’t there before. Those songs from the ether have been woken into a fever dream. “Pay No Mind” lulls back into Legrand and Scally’s usual dreamy state, but with more emphasis on the low end. “Lemon Glow” pops and flows like some lost 80s radio hit; a song you know you know but you’re not sure why. This is the proto-Beach House sound. It’s familiar and inviting, but with a noisier vibe. It’s Beach House, but with an industrial lean.
Beach House, for my money, never have to veer from the sonic world they’ve created. It’s a familiar place that I want to go to because I know what to expect and that I understand it’s place in my head. It’s nostalgic, but for something that never existed. Except for in the heads and hearts of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Lucky for me it’s an imagined world that I often long to be in. “L’inconnue” is one such imagined world. It opens like the petals of some exotic flower, inviting you in to exist within its colors and aromas. Legrand sings palates of hues; blues, pinks, whites, and deep reds. The simplicity of the beat lulls you into a place of near transcendence.
Beach House are transcendent.
Elsewhere, “Drunk in LA” captures some of that Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil magic. This is a near perfect track thanks to a mournful mood with an unexpected uplift hidden just under the surface. “Lose Your Smile” lives within the past and present. It has the sound of an old 60s European pop track, a Cowboy Junkies b-side, and something very current and vital. “Girl of the Year” is awash in dense, lovely keys. It’s regal sound and Legrand nearly whispering “You slide out on Sunset, Head west on Marest” takes you from your surroundings and drops you into her world. “Last Ride” spans over 7 minutes and ends the album quietly, in contrast to it’s noisier beginnings. It ends in a wall of subtle guitar squall that disappears into the ether.
Sonic Boom succeeds in expanding Beach House’s carefully-curated musical world without shaking things up too much. His touch is felt in the denser low end and noisier aspects of some of these songs, but this is still very much a Beach House album. It nods to Phil Spector-like sonics, 4AD melancholy, and an otherworldly feel that Beach House have perfected. 7 is an absolute stunning record of dark beauty and melancholy mood, and one of their best albums yet.