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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Beach House: Beach House


1) Saltwater; 2) Tokyo Witch; 3) Apple Orchard; 4) Master Of None; 5) Auburn And Ivory; 6) Childhood; 7) Love­lier Girl; 8) House On The Hill; 9) Heart And Lungs.

HE is Alex Scally, grown up in Baltimore, Maryland, where there are no beaches, and playing guitar and some keyboards when he feels like it. SHE is Victoria Legrand, grown up somewhere around the same place, and playing keyboards and singing when she feels like it. Together they are Beach House. Why Beach House? No one knows for sure.

What we do know for sure is that these days, it does not take much to be able to create psychede­lic-ious otherworldly magic. The duo's debut album was recorded in Scally's home, released on a tiny indie label, and still sounds like it has travelled to us all the way from Wonderland. Certainly, there are signs of cheapness all over the place — the most obvious and ugly of these is the syn­the­sized pshht-pshht percussion, which can spoil much of the fun; sometimes I find myself wish­ing they hadn't included any rhythmic support at all — or at least bothered to install a mini-drum set. Then again, these days it is not that hard to synthesize a «proper» drum sound either, so I guess we have to take this as an intended part of the picture. Apparently, there are people in this world who like pshht-pshht percussion, believe it or not.

Nevertheless, many were charmed with this strange mix of sonic magic and DIY attitude, and I can see why — the music is, at the same time, complex enough to understand that this is not just another couple of starry-eyed amateurs overpricing their egos, and yet simple enough, with even a touch of child­ish naïveness, to disarm the potential haters. Plus, although many possible influ­en­ces come to mind, it is hard to directly trace the sound that they achieve to a single source, so as to be able to say «Anyone who is already a fan of [insert some big name here] will find listen­ing to Beach House a waste of time». In fact, some of the standard comparisons were downright misguided — the most common comparison of Legrand's singing, for instance, that you will find is to that of Nico, which would miss the point entirely. For one thing, Nico is (was) German; Vic­toria is American, of French descent. For another, think of all the implications.

(I would, of course, favor a comparison with Cocteau Twins — but only as yet another example of a creative male-female duo with their own conception of a musical cosmogony, because musi­cally, there is very little in common between the two, and technically, it would take Beach House a long, long time to catch up with the advanced level of the Twins).

Beach House do not strive for diversity, nor for catchiness; their aim is to set up one specific mood, wire the listener up to it and keep him electrified for about thirty five minutes. The typical Beach House song is a three-four-minute mid-tempo drone, consisting of a moody synth hum in the background, a fairy-tale synth melody in the foreground, and sliding guitar flourishes in the middle. And the vocals, of course, whose only technical similarity to Nico's lies in their slightly mechanic flavour — Legrand often keeps the same note for the entire line — otherwise, they are far more «human» and closer to the listener. In fact, for all the parallel-reality-quality of this kind of music, one rarely gets the feeling that this other world is impenetrable. It isn't exactly inviting, but its constituency is something that you will probably crack quite easily. There is nothing on here that makes me go: «What the hell was that?» or «How in the world did they come up with this aura?» Of course, it is partially due to the cheapness of the production, but also, probably, to the lack of excessive ambition. And it works.

The songs flow so gently and, more often than not, unnoticeably into one another that it is impos­sible for me to choose favorites or attempt multiple individual descriptions. 'Apple Orchard' and 'Mas­ter Of None' are probably the best known tracks, and the double drifting of the lazy old-fashioned or­gan and the sweet old-fashioned slide guitar is as emblematic of the band's whole approach as anything else. Why did I say «old-fashioned»? Probably a subconscious call trigger­ed by a glance at the lyrics: 'Let's lie down for a while, you can smile, lay your hair in the old old fashion'. Which, pretty much, sums up the basic message of the album.

Beach House is far from a masterpiece, yet it is friendly, lovely, and graceful. It is also immu­table, monotonous, and boring. But I find that it helps if you think about it as a lovingly hand-made musical box, produced to accompany some retroish phantasmagoric show — a hint at which may actually be provided by the duo's official video to 'Master Of None'. And, just like any such show, it will hardly charm and bewilder the jaded listener, but it will make his life a little brighter, if he happens to be in need of a bit of extra brightness. As long as we do not expect these guys to rip our confined world apart, this is by all means a thumbs up.

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