There's a practice among music journalists — among all music listeners, really — that's been around just about as long as people have been recording songs. Nomenclature. Categorization. Classification. It's a tricky business, and one that some folks will tell you cheapens the art form. And often, reducing an artist's body of work to a simple term or phrase does in fact rob the music of its true value. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally of Baltimore's Beach House get "dream pop" a lot.
"I don't think it bothers us," Scally says. Contributing mostly guitars and keys, he's what you could call the "arranger" in the duo, if you had to call him something. "I think it's very natural for a fan or critic to make up a new category. It's just something people do. I don't really think genre exists anymore, or at least it exists less than it ever has before. People's influences are so varied."
Being placed in a genre pioneered by bands like Cocteau Twins and The Chameleons isn't so bad. Plus, Beach House have the "dream" part cornered pretty handily, with instrumentation that legions of bloggers are all too happy to label as "hazy," "ethereal," "ghostly," "haunting," "atmospheric," "enchanting," "otherworldly," et al., ad infinitum. Dense, resounding synthesizers and Scally's gracefully picked, reverb-saturated guitars provide a moody and distinguishing backdrop for each of Beach House's three full-length records. And as beautiful as those backdrops are, it's Legrand's enthralling vocal melodies that move the plot along.
"Victoria is the melody queen. She is so amazing at picking these melodies out of thin air that are absolutely incredible," Scally explains. "She'll sing a melody and I'll say, 'Wow. That's amazing.' And she'll just say, 'Yeah, I know.' It kind of goes like that."
Released in January on Sub Pop, Teen Dream features Beach House's most evocative and brilliant melodies yet. It's a more cohesive and fleshed-out release than the duo's prior LPs — poignant and sweetly tragic but never excessively sentimental, full of lush sounds but never overly ornate. Scally and Legrand made a conscious effort with Teen Dream to construct what Scally refers to as a "family of songs" — a family that doesn't exhaust the same territory track after track, but is bound together tonally and aesthetically. And Legrand's bittersweet lyrical content suits the instrumentation exceptionally well.
"Victoria never writes lyrics in a book or anything," says Scally. "The music comes first, and then the lyrics and melodies emerge from there. So yeah, the melodies and lyrics are reactions to the sounds and music. They're very interwoven. ... One influences the other, and then they influence each other back and forth."
"I'd take care of you," Legrand sings in the dramatically gorgeous album-closer "Take Care," "If you'd ask me to, in a year or two." And as the backing vocals, synthesized harpsichord and cymbal swells gradually fade into oblivion, the narrator's patient longing is palpable. It's indie-rock high drama at its finest, and with a delivery that no doubt owes at least a little to Legrand's background in opera. The French-born Legrand, who happens to be the niece of renowned French composer Michel Legrand, once studied both operatic singing and classical piano. Scally acknowledges that Legrand's training certainly aided her ability to sight-read, as well as control and hold pitch, and her knack for constructing and delivering grand, moving vocal melodies probably isn't a coincidence.
As tenuous as blog hype and raging Internet approval may be, Beach House deserve it. Their brief but ever-evolving catalog is rewarding, and now that they've hit their stride, anyone who appreciates alluring, intimate indie rock would likely have a difficult time overlooking just how damn good Beach House have gotten at doing what they do. Despite making music that Scally characterizes as "not easy" — as in challenging to the listener, not necessarily challenging as a player — they've begun to grow and secure a sizable fan base among the most precarious and attention-span-challenged set there is. Plus — as making three full-length records in four years tends to indicate — they work pretty hard.
"We think that we're kind of at a creative peak, so we don't want to slow down," Scally says. "We've been working as much as we can amongst doing what we have to do to support ourselves." By "doing what we have to do to support ourselves," could he possibly mean having to talk to jokers like me on the phone? Even if he did, it wouldn't offend me. Because the sooner he gets off the phone with me, the sooner he can go back to what, in his words, is Beach House's M.O.: "More to come as fast as possible."
Don't worry son, your Mom will be back as soon as the school bus drops…
The second woe is past; and behold, the third woe cometh quickly
Ok, Daddy, if I promise to go on the potty; can I have my gun…
8-8:15 third kind
8:30-8:45 the shapschenk restagtion
9-9:15 lazer slut
9:15-9:30 tim carey
This here's mah boy Charlie