Beach House

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Beach House (2006), 6.5/10
Devotion (2008), 6.5/10
Teen Dream (2010), 7/10
Bloom (2012) , 7/10
Depression Cherry (2015), 4/10
Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015), 6.5/10
7 (2018), 5/10
Once Twice Melody (2022), 6/10

Beach House, the Baltimore duo of guitarist Alex Scally and vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand, coined a new brand of languid and decadent slo-core on the brief album Beach House (Car Park, 2006), only vaguely reminiscent of famous predecessors (Mazzy Star, Yo La Tengo).
A sense of nostalgy exhales from Saltwater's waltzing beat and old-fashioned keyboards. Another waltzing ditty, Auburn and Ivory, shares a bit of Nico's stately melancholy. Middle-eastern arrangements decorate the poppy melody of Tokyo Witch, The country-ish ballad Apple Orchard straddles into psychedelic territory thanks to a revolving keyboard drone and a dreamy guitar solo. Legrand gets as close as soul music as she can in Master of None, accompanied by a quasi-liturgical organ. Unfortunately the second half of the collection is vastly inferior (despite the sinister chant and electronic noises of The House On The Hill and the lengthy spaced-out litany of Heart and Lungs), a sign that this should only have been an EP. Harpsichord and organ tower among the humble arrangements.

The gentle, low-key, hazy atmosphere of the debut turns more corporeal on Devotion (Carpark, 2008). The gems of the albums are two songs that practice the same strategy: the harpsichord-driven carillon of Wedding Bell, drenched in feathery Sixties romanticism; and the majestic Heart of Chambers, also tied to a tender music-box refrain (organ and guitar instead of harpsichord) and lifted by a Sixties-sounding bridge. The breathy and languid D.A.R.L.I.N.G. is just a bit less effective, despite an infectious organ progression. The neoclassical piano-based aria of You Came to Me and the stately and hypnotic ballad Gila (a bit too influenced by the Cocteau Twins) mine a murkier territory. Their counterpart are the dreamy, cosmically dilated lullabies Turtle Island and All the Years. The synth-pop of Astronaut Legrand is what they do worst.

Despite the glossy production Teen Dream (SubPop, 2010) exudes a sense of austere albeit lazy daydreaming. Victoria Legrand's limited and frigid vocals have become an art in itself in the tepid and breezy Zebra and in the mild and mellow Lover Of Mine. There are relatively few moments of panic: the the cabaret-tish single Used To Be (also the album's standout), the harpsichord-driven carillon of Take Care (a close second), and 10 Mile Stereo, which has a supersonic rhythm by their standards. Mostly the album is one long elegant swoon. Pure atmosphere. The real emotional shift comes from the slow magniloquent Silver Soul, the solemn aria Walk In The Park, the protracted agony of Real Love, and the Cocteau Twins-ian dream-pop of Norway. These are crafted in a hymn-like form that makes them more profound and, at the same time, less atmospheric.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Antonio Campo)

Beach House, il duo di Baltimora del chitarrista Alex Scally e della cantante/tastierista Victoria Legrand, hanno coniato un nuovo slo-core languido e decadente con il breve album Beach House (Car Park, 2006), che ricorda solo vagamente i famosi predecessori (Mazzy Star, Yo La Tengo).
Un senso di nostalgia esala dalla ritmica valzer e dalle tastiere vecchio stile di Saltwater. Un'altra canzoncina dal ritmo valzer, Auburn and Ivory, ha qualcosa della maestosa malinconia di Nico. Arrangiamenti medio-orientali decorano la melodia pop di Tokyo Witch. La countryeggiante ballata Apple Orchard attraversa territori psichedelici grazie a un drone tastietistico circolare e un trasognato assolo di chitarra. Legrand si avvicina come può alla musica soul in Master of None, accompagnata da un organo quasi liturgico. Sfortunatamente la seconda metà della collezione è molto inferiore (nonostante il canto sinistro e i rumori elettronici di The House On The Hill e la lunga litania di Heart and Lungs), un segno che questo sarebbe dovuto essere solo un EP. Clavicembalo e organo troneggiano tra gli umili arrangiamenti.

La delicata, tenue, sfocata atmosfera del debutto diventa più consistente in Devotion (Carpark, 2008). Le gemme dell'album sono due canzoni che praticano la stessa strategia: il carillon di clavicembalo di Wedding Bell, intriso di dolce romanticismo anni sessanta, e la maestosa Heart of Chambers, anche questa legata a un tenero ritornello da carillon (organo e chitarra invece del clavicembalo) e innalzata da un suono sixties. La sussurrata e languida D.A.R.L.I.N.G. è solo un po' meno efficace, nonostante una coinvolgente progressione d'organo. L'aria di piano neoclassica di You Came to Me e la maestosa ed ipnotica ballata Gila (un po' troppo influenzata dai Cocteau Twins) attraversano territori più oscuri. La loro controparte sono le sognanti e cosmicamente dilatate ninne nanne Turtle Island e All the Years. Il synth-pop di Astronaut Legrand è quello che fanno peggio.

Nonostante la brillante produzione Teen Dream (SubPop, 2010) emana un senso di austero sebbene pigro sognare ad occhi aperti. Il modo di cantare costretto e freddo di Victoria Legrand è diventato un arte in sè stessa nella tiepida e tenue Zebra e nella mite e dolce Lover Of Mine. Ci sono relativamente pochi momenti di panico: il singolo cabarettistico Used To Be (anche la migliore dell'album), il carillon di clavicembalo di Take Care (il secondo miglior pezzo) e 10 Mile Stereo, che ha un ritmo supersonico per i loro standard. Principalmente l'album è un lungo elegante deliquio. Pura atmosfera. Il vero cambiamento emotivo viene dalla magniloquente lenta Silver Soul, dalla solenne Walk In The Park, dalla protratta agonia di Real Love, e dal dream-pop alla Cocteau Twins di Norway. Queste sono realizzate in forma quasi di inno e ciò le rende più profonde e, allo stesso tempo, meno atmosferiche.

The much more publicized and hyped Bloom (Subpop, 2012), their most baroque recording yet, heralded the transition towards a much more mainstream sound but without sacrificing anything of their old identity. The extremely boring stories and childish lyrics do not detract from the pleasant ambience, the latter being the very raison d'etre of the band. Many are as predictable as any pop tune can get. To start with, the spiking refrain of Myth harks back to the dreamy ye-ye girls of the 1960s. That intimate naive singing style is spiced in Wild with electronic beats and arrangements that recall mid-tempo synth-pop of the 1980s. The Hours opens with a Beach Boys-esque sobbing breath and a march-like Tommy Roe-esque tempo. The Abba-esque Lazuli (just listen at a faster speed) and the hypnotic, romantic singalong Wishes only accentuate the dejavu feeling. The martial and jangling Other People (perhaps Legrand's zenith) is the ultimate demonstration of their slow-motion, understated revival of old-fashioned melodic styles. A thesis on the sublime in rock music would need to devote a chapter to these creations: impeccable craftmanship, simple glimmering arrangements, an uncanny ability to spell out vulnerability and yearning. Beach House coined a new genre, "summertime pop", a paradisiac kind of elegy that can as well become "autumn pop" with a minimal change of tone. Meanwhile, On The Sea waltzes away towards another universe and Irene digs a tunnel in the psyche leading from dream-pop back in time to the oneiric Nico-led creations of early Velvet Underground. This is probably their most accomplished collection. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Antonio Campo)

Il più pubblicizzato e montato Bloom (Subpop, 2012) ha segnato la transizione verso un suono più convenzionale,  ma senza sacrificare nulla della loro vecchia identità. Infatti "Wild", "Lazuli" e "Myth" sono prevedibili come qualsiasi altra band pop avrebbe potuto farle. Le storie estremamente noiose e testi infantili non sono diminuiti dall'atmosfera piacevole, che è la vera ragion d'essere della band. Una tesi sul sublimazione nella musica rock dovrebbe certo dedicare un capitolo a queste creazioni. I Beach House hanno coniato un nuovo genere, il "summertime pop", una sorta di elegia paradisiaca che può anche diventare "autumn pop" con un minimo cambiamento di tono. Intanto, la conclusiva Irene ha trovato un passaggio che porta ad un altro universo...

Alex Scally moved the keyboards upfront on Depression Cherry (Sub Pop, 2015) and Victoria Legrand made her singing even more intimate. the keyboards and guitars Levitation largely relies on two keyboard sounds, a subliminal drone and a swirling pattern. Sparks (the standout) pits a vintage organ against a (mellow) wall of noise before a crunchy guitar solo ruins the atmosphere. The hypnotic lullaby Days Of Candy employs a 24-piece choir but is still observing the same dogma: these songs are fundamentally static, relying not on a story but on maintaining a graceful composure. On the other hand, Space Song feels like a betrayal of their ideal, a bouncing synth-pop ditty that could be a lost demo from the 1980s. Ditto for the romantic ballad PPP, which sounds like music from the teen idols of the 1950s. And ditto for Wildflower, wrapped in an orchestral arrangement and propelled by a dance-beat. This album marked a sudden drop in inspiration.

A few months later Beach House released another album, Thank Your Lucky Stars (Sub Pop, 2015), which felt completely liberated from the original dogma. Majorette is emblematic: a charming, jangling and poppy ditty that does not try to hide what it is. Several songs end up sounding like low-key slow-motion versions of classics: the pulsing and sensual All Your Yeahs contains echoes of Giorgio Moroder's disco-music, Common Girl (thanks also to its harpsichord effect) replicates the dark foreboding of the Doors, and the album reaches a peak of hypnosis with One Thing, which sounds like a slow-motion version of Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat; but Elegy To The Void tries in vain to match the metaphysical depth of Nico's gothic lieder. The peak of pathos, instead, is reached with Somewhere Tonight, a romantic waltz with an almost austere vocal part, somewhere between the Cowboy Junkies' Misguided Angel and Franz Schubert's Ave Maria. It feels like the (mediocre) songs of Depression Cherry were leftovers from this (much better) one, although Thank Your Lucky Stars came out later.

The solemn single Chariot (2017) sounds like a church version of Somewhere Tonight. B-Sides and Rarities (2017) is a compilation.

The metamorphosis was complete on 7 (Sub Pop, 2018), an album of mainstream dance-pop containing a handful of singles: Dark Spring, another song with a Velvet Underground-ian vibe; the dense and almost cacophonous Lemon Glow; the loud and fast locomotive of Dive; and especially the majestic and soothing Lose Your Smile. For those nostalgic of the ethereal Beach House of yore, the album has the tenderly romantic Pay No Mind and the whispered litany L'Inconnue, halfway between Enya and Francoise Hardy.

The 18-song Once Twice Melody (2022), originally released as four separate EPs, was less shamelessly commercial and consolidated their new forte: an oneiric effect obtained by coupling David Campbell’s gradiose arrangements and Legrand's whispered vocals. In general, this yields slow, mellow, sticky synth-pop, ethereal and vaguely ecstatic dance-pop litanies like Once Twice Melody and Masquerade; and too often results in faceless songs like Through Me (with a beat that any teenager could create on a cheap drum-machine) and the seven-minute Over and Over. It may not be a coincidence that some of the best songs are so derivative: the mild boogie Superstar sounds like Mazzy Star covering the Velvet Underground and, led by a horror-organ, the languid Pink Funeral feels like gloomy church music with a Pink Floyd-ian refrain. The simple carillon over a propulsive beat of Runaway and the slow crescendo of Only You Know are also engaging enough to justify their existence. Melodically speaking, the peaks come at the end: Hurts to Love, another cute imitation of the French melodies of the 1960s, and the touching Many Nights which could be one of the Cowboy Junkies' melancholy lullabies, while ESP is simply an Electric Light Orchestra melody slowed down. This sprawling album is flooded with really bad filler (particularly in the third EP). With a little bit of trimming, it would have been one of their best. Modern Love Stories

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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