The self-titled debut by Baltimore duo Beach House is flooded with nostalgia. Melancholy remembrances of summers past dominate the record, the regret shaped from dulcet tones and blurred edges. In the songs, as in all longed-for times gone, details lose out to broad strokes and minute-to-minute complexities get brushed over. What's left is a uniform impression of things as they kind of were.
The band's main attribute is the sad, deep voice of singer Victoria Legrand. Her drawn-out drawl extends syllables well past their intended length; doubled by vintage organ tones, her gradual pitch changes provide the main melodic structure of most songs. Meanwhile, Alex Scully tinkers with delicate synth underneath, notes fluttering like fireflies in a thick fog of reverb. The album's best songs meld a few main elements together without overdoing the atmosphere or losing focus in spiraling keyboard lines. "Tokyo Witch" gets most of its power from limping tambourine and wistful sighing. "Apple Orchard," Legrand's most ethereal Mazzy Star-crossed vocal, is tethered to earth by a lub-dub drum machine heartbeat. The understated composition sells the intimacy of the song's pastoral lovers, alone with chests gently pounding.
The album's main drawback is its homogeneity. The tempo never makes it above a waltz and often recalls the awkward weight shifting of a freshman slow dance. Every vocal track is recorded in the same faraway style. The results are undeniably pretty, but the lead slide guitar or organ drone paired with a more active counter melody fails to surprise as the song cycle runs its course.
Ultimately, Beach House is a mood piece, finding a specific tone and lingering there for its entirety. Whereas a similarly slow-motion band such as Low can demand close attention with devastating wordplay, the fuzzy vagaries here might dissipate under intense scrutiny. Without the lyrical focus, the band doesn't rise above sonic wallpaper status -- very tasteful and exquisitely selected wallpaper, I'll admit, but background music nonetheless.
***"Master of None" MP3
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