Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Record Review: Beach House: Devotion

The sophomore record from the Baltimore-based dream pop duo tops their already impressive debut in nearly every conceivable way, even if the blueprint remains the same.

Rating: 4.5/5

You know how sometimes you’re having a really great dream and you wake up before the dream draws itself out to a natural conclusion? Or even worse, when you have a really surreal, fascinating dream and you wrack your brain trying to remember what happened and just can’t? Well, I don’ know, I could be crazy, but this seems like the kind of thing that everyone would experience to one extent or another. For me, Devotion, the sophomore album from Baltimore-based dream pop duo Beach House, is the perfect antidote, a near flawless set of dreams made music, ones you actually get to see through to the end, and ones you can (and will want to) return to again and again.

If you’ve heard the duo’s 2006 self-titled debut, Devotion’s sonic approach won’t come as any surprise. Victoria Legrand offers her hushed, velvety smooth, Nico-like vocals over Alex Scally’s warm, spacious soundscapes to create music that really can only be best characterized as dream-like. The two musicians have mastered their gorgeous aesthetic, their brand of lovely, soothing escapism, and they’re sticking to it. For better or for worse, they even opted to continue using a drum machine. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Of course, while the band’s debut didn’t need to be “fixed,” per say, it did need some fine tuning. “Saltwater,” “Apple Orchard,” and “Master of None” showcased BH’s indisputable talent for crafting beautiful dream-ballads, but the album seemed timid at times, fumbling around for the light switch and hoping not to knock the lamp over in the process. Legrand sounded faint and uncertain, which at times worked to her advantage, as it helped to build sadness and vulnerability well-suited for the bleak backdrops. However, too often I felt like she should have taken charge and didn’t.

On Devotion, she sounds astronomically more confident and expressive. From the “Oh, your wish is my command” refrain of “Wedding Bell” to the unsure yet comforting “Will I swim out on your ocean?” ponder of closer “Home Again,” Victoria Legrand brings her A-game. Every melody floats perfectly atop her partner’s intricately-weaved web of slide guitar and keyboards (arrangements augmented effectively by Legrand’s organ), with every heartfelt lyric exhibiting her lively passion, every track gracefully flowing into the next.

One particular reviewer described the tone of Beach House’s debut as “evok[ing] the desolation of [autumn]” rather than celebrating the glories of summer the artist’s name might suggest. This time around, Beach House have created a winter record that can sense the imminent arrival of spring, an album with lovesick balladry (“You Came to Me” being the best of it) setting a dreary, sorrowful mood, but also one with moments of optimism shining through Legrand’s clouds of uncertainty and doubt. BH’s fuller, more assured sound inspires a sense of hope rather than fear, even when the duo try to paint a shadowy picture, with the pristine beauty of songs like standout “Gila” overpowering the material’s despair. Listening to this and looking out my window at the snow-covered ground…like, omg, I am sooo ready for spring!

Yeah, so, unfortunately, I have to wait a little while for that, depending on something to do with a groundhog and his shadow that I can’t remember…anyway, this is the album to be listening to right now. Beach House have progressed to such an extent that even the band’s detractors, those listeners bored by the good but not great debut, should give this one a chance. Artists don’t often make them quite like this, this irresistible and inviting, this singularly gorgeous.


Andrew said...

As much as I want to love this whole record, it's just hard not to lose interest after the unstoppable onslaught the first three songs creates. "Heart of Chambers" is good though.

Anonymous said...

I love this whole record. I find that it's hard not to get completely swept away by the unstoppable beauty the first three songs create...