Although I liked what I had heard of this band, I hadn't really given them a close listen until recently, when I finally followed up on Rob G's praise of them here. I had heard some of their self-titled first album back when it was released in 2006. Those were the glory days of cheap MP3s, and the two tracks I have, "Auburn and Ivory," and "Master of None," were probably free. I liked them well enough but, apparently, not enough to buy the album. Here's "Master of None":
A few years later I heard a track, "Norway," from their second album, Teen Dream, and it was similar. Apparently I liked it better, because I flagged it with four stars. Still, I didn't buy the album. I may have intended to, but I was trying to drink from a firehouse of music, and didn't follow up on everything that I liked.
I mention this history because one of the interesting things about the band is that they are still working in recognizably the same basic style, and it only got better, at least up to the point where I've listened to them: Bloom from 2012 and Thank Your Lucky Stars from 2015. I've had these for a while, but, as I mentioned, had not given them a serious listen. The production has grown more lush, melodies more sweeping and memorable, the instrumentation more varied, the vocals more powerful, assured, and versatile. But it's recognizably the same band, working in the same slow, dreamy style. Here's "Myth," the opening track of Bloom:
And "Majorette," the opener of Thank Your Lucky Stars:
Well, I'm sold. I like these two albums immensely. There is not much to be said for ranking one over the other in any sort of detached critical way. My personal preference is for Lucky Stars, but I think it's a matter of personal taste, and I might well change my mind, depending on which one I'm listening to.
It's a rich, spacious sound, dreamy but grounded. Tempos are rarely quicker than a sort of andante. I've heard it described as ethereal but I think it's more earthy than that. It's a very electronic sound, but without being, on the the one hand, cold, as in the effects seemingly deliberately sought by synth-pop bands, or, on the other hand, simply canned, the way the bits of contemporary pop I hear tend to sound--calculated, like canned laughter. The presence of electric guitars that sound like guitars helps.
It's basically a two-person band consisting of Victoria LeGrand, the vocalist, and Alex Scally. Apart from the vocals, I don't have any idea who's responsible for what, though my guess is that LeGrand is the main lyricist, as they're somehow very feminine-sounding. I don't know who's responsible for the big heart-grabbing melodies. I do know that LeGrand's rich warm voice, which can be soft and pretty or big and strong, is the centerpiece of the sound, and a lesser or different vocalist would make for lesser or different work. Probably lesser, I would guess.
The lyrics are, to my taste, a little on the weak side, mostly somewhat vague if not cryptic references to (presumably) private situations. However, they don't suffer from a defect which I noticed in another album I was listening to recently (more about that one later): they remain fairly concrete, even if their apparent connection to personal relationships is obscure; they don't discuss, but feel via concrete images--in the best 20th century style, I suppose you could say.
There have been two more albums since Lucky Stars, 7 and Once Twice Melody. As a reviewer of the most recent album at AllMusic says
Beach House's style is so distinctive that it's a small miracle Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally continue to find ways to keep their music fresh.
They do indeed, and I'm looking forward to hearing their more recent work.
The image in the "Majorette" video is cropped way down for some reason. It's the cover of Lucky Stars, and here's the full cover, which I'm including mainly because I find it so charming:
When I first saw it, I thought Oh, a picture of Victoria LeGrand as a child--that's sweet. That was immediately followed by You dummy, that looks to be from the '50s. You're in your boomer time trap again: LeGrand of course is of my children's generation. Turns out the picture is of her mother. And turns out that they're a distinguished French musical family: Michel Legrand is Victoria's uncle, and her aunt, Christina, was a part of the Swingle Singers, who made a name for themselves in the '60s with jazzy a capella arrangements of classical works. I had not thought about them for quite a long time, but discovering this relationship caused me to give them another listen. And they're still good. (Contrary to my initial supposition, the name "Swingle" does not refer to the swing in their arrangements, but, by happy chance, was the surname of the man, Ward Swingle, who, so to speak, invented them.)
One of the tags which both AllMusic and Wikipedia attach to the group is is "dream pop," which is also the description applied to the Lynch/Cruise/Badalamenti sound, of which I have often spoken here. In a fairly broad way Beach House is similar, but much less dark and weird. But the last track on Lucky Stars, "Somewhere Tonight," would fit right in. I mean, the title alone suggests it.