Chosen One: Beach House
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally together have mastered their unique dream-pop sound over the course of their four albums to date. The most recently released ‘Bloom’ (Bella Union, 2012) is a further showcase of Beach House’s unrivaled talent for musicianship and songcraft.
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Beach House’s concert in Cork was very special. A Saturday night as part of the Cork Jazz Festival, Beach House transported me far away, to unknown territories of infinite possibilities. It was the Baltimore band’s first time to play in this part of the world and the rapturous audience were grateful for their long-awaited arrival. I was fortunate to see them several times before-the last time in a sold-out Vicar Street venue on the tail-end of their ‘Teen Dream’ tour. In the summer of 2010 I saw them at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, where Victoria Legrand, Alex Scally and Daniel Franz were responsible (along with Grizzly Bear), for being the standout act, taken from a long list of indie-greats. This time around, the 2012 tour is promoting their latest, fourth studio album, ‘Bloom’. For me, ‘Bloom’ is the crystallization of all things Beach House. Each element of their ethereal pop sound is refined and heightened to new levels. Songs like ‘Lazuli’, ‘Troublemaker’, ‘On The Sea’ and ‘Irene’ are some of the finest of their unique sonic creations to date.
A scene from the LCD Soundsystem documentary ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’ comes to my mind when talking about Beach House. There is a scene where James Murphy discusses his hero Nick Cave, about how he sees Cave as this mythical figure. Murphy explains how he can’t visualize this larger-than-life figure having a coffee or doing normal, everyday routines. He exists in another realm, apart from us mere mortals. Watching that scene, I immediately thought of Beach House. A band whose unique and ultimately transportive music of mysterious dream-pop creations, Legrand and Scally must exist in this very realm. It is the musical telepathy that exists between Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally that creates sparks of true wonder and amazement. The beautiful reverb guitars of Scally cascade onto Legrand’s soulful, otherworldly vocals and keyboards/organ.
My first hearing of their unique sound was the 2008 Bella Union album, ‘Devotion’. The artwork itself introduced you to a whole new world of forgotten dreams. A candle, brightly lit, stands on either side of a dinner table, where either half of Beach House sit, both in deep thought and prayer. Three candles glow from the top of the table and in the centre, an iced cake lays, spelling out ‘Devotion’. It’s an album I’ve listened to and cherished since its release four years ago. Songs like ‘Gila’ and ‘Holy Dances’ were performed during their set in Barcelona and immediately transported me back to the magical moments of first discovering Beach House. Two years later ‘Teen Dream’ was released. Could there be an album more perfect and complete as this? The piano-led ballads of ‘Real Love’ and ‘Better Times’, the anthems of ’10 Mile Stereo’ and ‘Silver Soul’ and infectious pop of ‘Norway’ and ‘Used To Be’, makes ‘Teen Dream’ an album of unrivaled sound and vast emotion. The most transcendent moments that are felt during a concert are impossible to forget. One that stands out for me is ‘Take Care’, the song that closes ‘Teen Dream’. The chorus refrain of “I’ll take care of you/take care of you/that is true” filled the Barcelona evening’s sky and the Mediterranean seas beyond. The heartwarming guitar notes and organ tones hung perfectly in the night’s air, long after the music ended.
‘Irene’ is the song that had a similar effect on me, during their live performance in my hometown, just a few nights ago. The song closes ‘Bloom’ and was also the set closer of this inspiring night. The trio of Scally (stage right), Legrand (stage centre) and Franz (stage left), performed the majority of their latest opus, ‘Bloom’ and many songs from the previous ‘Teen Dream’ album. Onstage, giant wind fans stood behind the band, further heightening the ethereal space the band wonderfully inhabit. ‘Irene’ showcased the live spectacle of Beach House at its stellar best. Victoria Legrand’s voice transports you far far away. Drone of electric guitar and a hypnotic drum beat created a heavenly building of sound before Legrand’s vocals and keyboards returned. “It’s a strange paradise” is sung in refrain over dazzling guitar notes that graced the air’s atmosphere of the opera house. The drums get louder and the guitar turns into white noise of sonic marvel. In front of this crescendo of noise is the main instrument: Legrand’s voice. “It’s a strange paradise” epitomizes Beach House’s sound. Witnessing these mythical figures in real life, seeing their art unfold across your very eyes is just that and more. Strobe lighting covered every angle of the venue whilst the climax of ‘Irene’ penetrated the chamber of hearts present in the venue space.
Holy Other’s ethereal and ghostly beats and vocal samples provided the perfect prelude to Beach House’s arrival. The intriguing sounds and textures breathed a spectrum of emotion, filled with hazy darkness and scattered light. Beach House would soon tap into this vibe of otherness and take you to the other side. ‘Myth’, ‘Wild’ and ‘Lazuli’ were all played near the beginning of the set. The lighting changed throughout, at times the band were enveloped in darkness, only silhouettes to be seen. A full spectrum of light shone on the stage during the ‘Bloom’ standout ‘Lazuli’. The blend of voices (Legrand/Scally) towards the end of the verse is sublime; “When you couldn’t see/you would come for me”. A fantasy world steeped in beauty is unlocked before your very eyes. The chorus refrain of “Like no other you can’t be replaced” was another divine moment steeped in beautiful magic. Songs like ‘Norway’ and ’10 Mile Stereo’ were full-blown anthems, particularly Legrand’s hushed vocals on the intro to ‘Norway.’ Alex Scally joked that the next song was their one “party-song” for the festival crowd to dance to, before erupting into ‘Silver Soul’. Scally’s electric guitar meandered through the cosmic space amidst spiritual organs and vocals from Legrand. Amazing. One of my favourite Beach House songs.
‘Troublemaker’ from ‘Bloom’ is another crowning jewel of Beach House’s songbook. “Like a hand you reached out to me”, Victoria sings on the opening line of the fist verse. This song live simply blew me away. Organ notes are first heard before drifting guitar notes float into the flame’s ethers. The backing harmonies share the glorious tones of ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Surf’s Up’. The rise of Victoria’s voice is a true awakening of the senses. ‘New Year’ provided compelling dream-pop with Daniel’s drums being the bloodflow of the song. The swirling piano of ‘On the Sea’ transported me to new horizons. The electric guitar erupted with the distorted notes echoing into every molecule of the atmosphere. Victoria’s words swim magnificently in the sea of otherworldly sounds: “Time will tell in spite of me”. For me, the very essence of Beach House is distilled in the final lyrics of ‘On The Sea’ where Victoria sings “The world becomes/And swallows me in.” Beach House’s music will forever captivate your heart. Some things last a long time.
‘Bloom’ is out now on Bella Union.