Artist In Focus – Beach House

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The way that Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House talk about their music is endlessly inspiring. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Victoria LeGrand talks of their creative process in vague, yet pertinent terms – how their technique involves discovering “what the song wants”, leading to “an emotional colour that starts to come out of something” – and if you “love [that]something… that’s what going to take you somewhere”. Following this approach has led to the band to produce music that’s elegant, truthful and emotionally complex – garnering a significant fanbase in indie music circles as well as sneaking into the mainstream here and there. Across six albums, they’ve been instrumental in defining the dream-pop genre, carving out a niche sound that wraps its listener in layers of soothing, soporific noise. The inside of your eyelids look their best when listening to Beach House.

In 2006 Beach House released their self-titled debut to much acclaim – its low fidelity dream-pop sound capturing those that listened closely, paving the way for what was to come. The album immediately installed Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally as the mysterious newcomers to the indie scene, the single ‘Apple Orchard’ landing on Pitchfork’s Infinite Mixtape series, and ‘Master of None’ being used in the Aziz Ansari show of the same name. Held within these simple melodies were songs concerned with heartbreak, and reflections on lost love that leapt out of their bedroom-pop setting.

Their second album, Devotion, followed soon after, but Beach House didn’t reach the peak of their early sound until their third album: that truly pushed them into the limelight. Taking on producer Chris Coady, who had previously worked with shoegaze legends Blonde Redhead and Slowdive, as well as indie darlings Grizzly Bear, the duo sought to amplify their sound whilst keeping their core ethos intact. The result was the opulent, glimmering Teen Dream, an album that oscillates between ecstatic ballads of joy and mournful epitaphs of heartbreak.

The album presented itself as more accessible than the last, with poppy melodic hooks such as the breathy ‘Norway’ or cavernous ’10 Mile Stereo’. The band toured extensively behind the album, setting up ‘installation gigs’ with sets handmade by Scally (a carpenter before a musician) that encouraged audience members to sit, or even lie down, basking in the melancholic atmosphere created in Beach House’s music. The album and tour together encapsulated everything Beach House had strived to create – but were soon to push themselves further still.

Bloom, Beach House’s 2012 masterpiece, presented the most radical departure from their bedroom roots. Album opener ‘Myth’ is the album’s mission statement – the song exploding outwards into a soaring, grandiose cathedral of sound, that immerses its listener fully into its world. The album is full of songs like this, the band incorporating more live drumming into their sonic palate to create bigger songs to fill bigger spaces as their popularity grew exponentially. Bloom was the most fitting title for the record, representing the marked shift into a larger, more open sound than ever before. The album was accompanied by the documentary/music video Forever Still – the performances of Alex and Victoria perfectly representing what Beach House ought to feel like – how something so slow and delicate can produce such an outpouring of emotion.

After the album’s release, Beach House set off on a rigorous touring schedule, followed by a short hiatus before returning to the studio to record Depression Cherry, soon followed by Thank Your Lucky Stars. These albums were reversions to their earlier work – moving away from the grand scale of Teen Dream and Bloom to refocus on a smaller, more intimate sound. As LeGrand attests – “the larger stages and bigger rooms naturally drove us towards a louder, more aggressive place; a place farther from our natural tendencies. [On depression cherry] we continue to let ourselves evolve while fully ignoring the commercial context in which we exist”. This desire to not be affected by the more commercial aspects of the music industry has stuck with the band – not letting themselves really exist “on social media… or [as]anything besides music” – letting their songs act as their mouthpiece. Each record in Beach House’s discography to date represents this – the perfect relationship between Scally, LeGrand and their music the only necessary ingredient in reproducing their magical, dreamlike sound time and time again.

And this brings us into the present, with the duo gearing up for their latest album, 7, an album with a title so simple the listener is “encourage[d]… to look inside” to see “some kind of heavy truth” that drives the music. In 2017 Beach House released B-Sides and Rarities, a collection of songs representing “clean[ing]the creative closet” to be ready once again move into new territories – propelling themselves from sleepy dream pop into towering, ethereal oceans of noise like on the shoegaze-inspired ‘Dark Spring’ – or towards a more alien, metallic and acidic sound as heard on ‘Lemon Glow’. These songs are wonderful extensions of Beach House’s sound – maintaining a core of glittering dream pop whilst tapping into every nearby genre they can lay their hands on. This is in part due to their unusual approach to recording, with “no producer in the traditional sense” and relying on their live drummer, James Barone, for creative flourishes across the record.

7 is shaping up to truly be what the band is promising – a record of fearless exploration into new territories, of total creative freedom and of boundless wonder in the world around them. Not only do Beach House want to push into new territories, but, in LeGrand’s words, to recapture “that feeling that made you feel excited in the first place”.

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Music reviewer and real human being. Loves anything that can have the word 'alternative' tacked onto it somewhere.

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