Beach House - Devotion
Kate Goranka Whittaker 28/08/2008
So maybe I am the last to catch on, but I'm just so excited about the Bella Union record label. It started for me with Howling Bells' eponymous debut in 2006(a fine indie band from Down Under), and more recently Fleet Foxes with their brilliant first album, hinting at Brian Wilson-isms with its soaring choirboy harmonies and dextrous melodies. They came seemingly from nowhere, straight into the charts, shaking up my complacency and blind preconceptions, and making me an instant fan.
In the past few days I've also turned on to Texas band Midlake - looking and sounding like something from the 70's, they are not quite as folky as the weird cover art for "The Trials of Van Occupanther" (2006) might suggest; they have a Californian Classic Rock vibe - all sunshine harmonies, layers of sound rich with piano and guitars, but with a sprinkling of woodlander lyrics on top. Oh, and look - they're on the Bella Union label too.
So whilst googling for possible Fleet Foxes tour dates (October 30th, Bristol Uni, here I come!), I stumbled across a joint live review for the Foxes and a band I'd never heard of called Beach House. According to the writer, both acts were outstanding, but it was Beach House that lingered in his mind after the show was over. There was the hook - how could any band possibly outdo those indomitable Foxes? Who on earth were Beach House? My interest was piqued, and a quick itunes preview later led me to purchase "Devotion", their second album, released in June this year, again, on the Bella Union label. A pattern was clearly emerging.
Hailing from Baltimore, Beach House are a duo: Victoria Legrand on vocals and keyboards, and Alex Scally on guitar. Here's a little nugget for all you fact fans: Legrand, originally from France, is the niece of French film composer Michel Legrand (The Thomas Crown Affair, Yentl, and Predator 2 (!) are just a tiny sample of his extensive oeuvre).
"Devotion" feels like the soundtrack to some run-down deserted fairground setting, or an empty park on a misty Christmas morning -this is music to get lost in. Slow and steady to the point of hypnotic - these are narcotic lullabies, inducing a spooky dreamstate; melancholia for walking alone with and drifting off to some alternate mental plane.
Legrand's enveloping vocal echoes resonant over organs, keyboards, moony slide guitar and jingling twinkly percussion, creating a dreamy soundscape reminiscent of Mazzy Star - they share the same languid stylings, particluarly in the intoxicating fog of their female vocal. But Beach House have a colder, darker quality - they are soft like snow, where Mazzy Star are soft like velvet.
I love bands that indulge in childlike nostalgia, and there's definitely a sepia glow about Beach House - just check out their video for "House of Chambers" (http://www.myspace.com/beachhousemusic) in which they mess about like kids with a shopping trolley, looking not unlike a hippie era Grace Slick and George Harrison, but with the playful air of Jack and Meg White... on Valium. In a word: Sublime.