Friday, March 2

Album Review: Beach House

I know it’s a little late to be blogging about these guys, but I wrote this review a few months ago and, in a bit of confusion that ensued with one of my other journalism endeavors, I lost track of it. Fortunately, I was able to recover it after losing my hard drive. The more important thing, though, is that Beach House put out a fantastic album, and it deserves to be blogged about, even if it’s a bit late.

“Beach House”
Carpark; 2006

A beach house is a sanctuary, a sort of anomaly that takes the priorities of everyday life and turns them inside out. There’s no place for paperwork in a beach house, no rush to get the kids to soccer practice, no pressure to get out of bed before noon—these are sins in the Land of Eternal Coastline, replaced by airborne kites, late lunches, and reclined, plastic lounge chairs as virtues. Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand understand the reason behind this flip-flopping of modern conventions. They understand that, for the urban-bound, bustling population of America, beach houses are a symbol of hope: a necessary antithesis to the anxiety and rigors of 21st century man.

That the Baltimore-based duo calls itself “Beach House” is no accident. Scally and Legrand furnish their house comfortably, but sparingly; the stay is pleasant, but the eventuality of departing is never far from thought. There’s little variation among the songs themselves—the organ is the substance, the guitar the subtlety, the drums a lazy metronome, the vocals slow and spacious—but this acts simultaneously as both strength and weakness, creating an environment that’s easy to get lost in but all the more startling when its over. Legrand manages to penetrate the haze only twice, first in the jubilant chorus of “Master of None” and later in the haunting final seconds of “House on the Hill”, but even what’s memorable is ultimately eclipsed by a lingering, elusive familiarity. Even perceptions are altered, simplified into free-forming imagery (“Warming her eyes to the seas / hardly her way to be free / auburn and ivory / heartbreak and ponytails”) and instinctive emotional reaction (“Let’s lie down for a while / you can smile / lay your head in the arm / old-fashioned”).

What separates Beach House from other their two-piece, hippie-psych contemporaries (a category that really only includes Brightblack Morning Light) is not their ability to craft a song, but to let the song grow organically from the hands of its authors. The tracks on “Beach House” lack the architectural precision of BBM’s “Everybody Daylight” and “Star Blanket River Child”, but offer instead the charms of imperfection, embracing the quirks and mistakes that naturally result from human error. Scally and Legrand are not afraid to lose their fingering, start a verse late, or work in paper-thin guitar tones. It’s not perfect because it doesn't have to be, and the confidence with which they accept their own shortcomings serves not only to redeem, but to compliment.

If Scally and Legrand didn’t deliver last year’s best debut, they certainly delivered its most beautifully realized; “Beach House” is occasionally stirring and always convincing, a snapshot of the Land of Eternal Coastline destined for photo albums and picture frames. If there’s any flaw to be found, it’s a flaw inherent to a beach house: it works best as an exception to contemporary hustle and bustle rather as a rule itself and, accordingly, there’s a specific time and place for it.

Beach House - Master of None [mp3]
Beach House - Auburn and Ivory [mp3]

- Dominick Duhamel -

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