Don’t let the band’s name fool you. This is not sunny summer pop—at least not in the conventional sense. As the ever-growing legions of Beach House followers know (out of the box, this album made it to Number 7 on the Billboard Album chart and hit Number One on both the Indie and Modern Rock charts), there’s a darkness and mystery in many of the songs that the Baltimore-based duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have turned out over the course of four albums, and especially on this latest effort. Still, there are gorgeous, haunting melodies and bright hooks that contrast with occasionally bleak lyrics, and Legrand’s solid lead vocals are as pleasing as they are evocative. There may be an underlying melancholy, but it’s a beautiful melancholy.
Much credit must go to producer/engineer/mixer Chris Coady (TV on the Radio, Trail of Dead, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), who has built upon the sonic approach he, Legrand and Scally took on Beach House’s 2010 breakthrough, Teen Dream, to create a rich, dreamy soundscape that carries through the entire album. I don’t know if you could term this a “concept” album exactly, but there is certainly a sonic consistency from track to track. Drone organs and synths and guitars drift or ring through most songs, and nearly all of LeGrand’s vocals are set in a deeply reverberant field. In fact, because there is so much atmosphere, the lyrics are occasionally hard to decipher, but that only adds to the enigmatic character of the album as a whole—and further listening reveals all, as well as the sophistication of the arrangements. Not everything is drenched in reverb—a number of instruments are echo-free and sit outside the wash; a nice juxtaposition of sustained textures and crisp parts. It’s a skillfully layered opus from beginning to end.
A few moments bring to mind some of Brian Wilson’s grander sonic experiments with the Beach Boys (“Heroes and Villains,” etc.) and there’s a certain retro feel I can’t quite pinpoint that hearkens back to both the moody lushness of some early ’60s dramatic film scores and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. But it’s still strikingly contemporary, original and completely unmistakable as Beach House. And it works equally well blasting in the car on a sunny day or under headphones in the dark.
Producer/engineer/mixer: Chris Coady. Co-producers: Victoria Legrand, Alex Scally. Additional engineer: Brooks Harlan. Studios: Sonic Ranch (Tornillo, TX), Electric Lady (NYC, mixing). Mastering: Joe LaPorta.