Monday, November 30, 2015

Masters Of None, Beach House's Top 20 Tracks

They need no introduction. They're this century's Dream Pop curators, the duo that single-handedly brought a genre back from the dead with a beauty that evoked the bright sun as it did the starry night. Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally form Beach House and with six albums under their belts I felt it's the best time to take a look back at their best pieces of work. Let's not waste time and get on to Beach House's top 20 tracks. 
Elegy To The Void
Thank Your Lucky Stars

Beach House has a way of weaving cathartic moments sparingly within their works of more subdued origins. While their later albums showed flourishing synths in line with intense guitar, keyboard, and drum work, the tracks that tended to warrant the biggest reaction were those that went against the grain. While some may point to ‘Sparks’ for doing that, as it does, no track has deviated so strongly than ‘Elegy To The Void,’ a glorified epic from its first looming synth lines. And while its earlier portions fashion themselves per typical Sub Pop Beach House, the finale, with a gratingly loose guitar wail amongst crashing textures, broods with an enormity that hover’s over the rest of Thank Your Lucky Stars. The gracefully elongated wind-down, as LeGrand attempts to get out her final lyrics before it fades into oblivion, further adds to the allure of the track as the lasting impression is one deep and emotional. While other tracks, notably ‘Days Of Candy,’ posit themselves as funeral music, ‘Elegy’ does so in much less obvious ways, speaking towards the poetic death of a loved one through a crucified religion.

10 Mile Stereo
Teen Dream

It’s crazy to think that from their reclusive origins Beach House would form, on selective occasion, into one of the loudest, most chaotic acts in the Indie scene. What made these moments amazing is they were just that, moments, sporadic in nature, neatly presented under the guise of singular songs. While unassuming from the get-go, with a typical Beach House opening, a drum procession and Teen Dream-famed tightly-tuned guitars, ’10 Mile Stereo’ leads a magnificent parade of rampant production, with a drum-line procession and soaring synths, all in unison with LeGrand loudest moments of clarity. Many, presumably including the singer herself, see this track as a shifting point, for while many Beach House tracks seem to revolve around relational qualms, this one is earnestly obsessed with the fleetingness, so much so the music goes along with it. LeGrand tears at the heart, grasping for a way to understand things suddenly falling away, “it can’t be gone, we’re still right here” she wails, worried of the passing moments, crackling at her incoming fears. While some more melancholy tracks focus on the same strifes, what makes ’10 Mile Stereo’ memorable is its sonic companionship, a blissful rendezvous of one final encounter with a lover who will soon leave, a taste so teasing you never want to let it go.

Heart & Lungs
Beach House

Back in the days when Beach House was working out of minuscule studios in antiquated basements came some of Indie’s most incredulously intimate songs that spawned imitators who assumed such fickle sounds could be replicated in their own bedrooms. The finale to Beach House sees Victoria hauntingly spill over breezy keyboards, flip to her lower bravado in the creepy chorus, and gurgle up nearly inaudible refrains on the bizarre hidden track. It’s this last part, the most peculiar moment in Beach House’s discography, where their potential, surprisingly, truly shone. The track itself begins to come apart at the seams, crackling and mopping around as pianos play disgruntled tunes behind Victoria, like a smokey late night bar where no one’s listening to the group muscling their way through a mental breakdown. While not immediately apparent, ‘Heart & Lungs’ would prove to show off the two sides of Beach House’s origins, that of sonic organization and mental anguish. 

Somewhere Tonight
Thank Your Lucky Stars

It may have taken nearly a decade but that gripping finale to their debut album finally surfaced in their last song to date. Move them from the bar to the glitzy homecoming dance and you have ‘Somewhere Tonight,’ a slow burner that perfects a sound Beach House engulfs but has failed to show. Where they soar on their Sub Pop releases and nestle uneasily in their early days, ‘Somewhere Tonight’ takes them into remarkable uncharted territory, disavowing all their previous songs besides that untitled refrain off their debut closer to create a swell that’s uncanny in its representation of Beach House. It’s a hazy anthem found in the basement of a church with Victoria leading the two-step, baring resemblance to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ before taking it personally and in the moment. The song sways in unparalleled grace, uses a simple guitar and drum pattern to give LeGrand her proper place at the forefront. It’s still unmistakably Beach House, but the differences it has with all their previous work is shocking, a testament to their overall reach. And like a fire in the wind, right as the song and album conclude, a keyboard riff, their most organic instrument, arises to signal a change or an end, time will only tell which one.

On The Sea

Much of Bloom follows a strict pattern, a string of flows that, sonically, I can’t describe as anything other than what the cover tells us. Dark, looming, but fluorescently bright Dream Pop. But when given time to breath a sound that tends to stagnate is given fresh air, case in point, ‘On The Sea.’ A true showing of song progression where pieces are layered on top based on feel, not forced. I hate to be cliche but ‘On The Sea’ sonically begins, with a keyboard two-step, as if the listeners were out at sea. The song sways and gusts and strokes and breezes its way to six minutes, building tension as a looming storm approaches. That storm given attention with LeGrand’s vocals, as she slowly but surely gains steam, pushing onwards, lowering her voice at every crest. During its climax LeGrand hollers “shadows bend and suddenly the world becomes and swallows me in,” a moving portrait of death in life and death at sea. And then, through a passage of time, the storm ceases and as does life. While ‘Irene’ follows it up in an afterlife vision, ‘On The Sea’ acts as the grotesquely serene finale to Bloom, an album obsessed with the beauty of death.

Silver Soul
Teen Dream

Through the great production team over at TDE this, effectively, was my first Beach House song. The flipped sampling on ‘Money Trees’ was encapsulating enough for me to look up its origins, somehow retaining that Beach House-y vibe despite Lamar, bass, and “ya bish's” thrown all over it. ‘Silver Soul’ itself though has its own merits to live by, a beautifully subjugated version of Teen Dream itself. The starlight passages, the twinkling keyboards, hollow drums, and haunting vocals all combine to make one of Beach House’s most delectable songs. Nothing it does floors listeners or advances their sound, but its refinements in their specialized sounds are immediately noticeable. Thankfully Victoria carries out her vocals, as she’s prone to do, to create an everlasting feeling as she wails that “it is happening again.” The song decries of their stylized beauty as well, engulfed in the fleeting feelings of their Dream Pop conjuring.

Heart Of Chambers

Looking back to see Beach House’s age of innocence is always a wonderful thing. Before the bright lights and the Sub Pop days, the duo resided in their own world, unconnected to the music industry. Here they ran around in carriages, sang of long lost loves over melodic refrains that resembled nothing in the mid-2000’s, and self-created everything that encompassed their character. They were free spirits held down by the constant pull of relational quandaries. ‘Heart Of Chambers,’ off the title alone, fits this description rather succinctly. But hidden beneath its facade was a song that was riddled with emotional tugs and charming medleys. Little did Victoria express her vocal chords in the early days but here, on the chorus, she bursts, crying out that she’d “like to be someone.” But what ‘Heart Of Chambers’ shows even more, given hindsight, is a preview of what’s to come. Tracks like ‘Sparks’ and ‘One Thing’ are noted as being Beach House’s first dive into Shoegaze, and while that’s unintended and largely due to the inclusion of some crunchy guitars, they bear resemblance to ‘Heart Of Chambers’ because Scally tried to do the same in the background without sounding as overbearing. 

Depression Cherry

Yes it has similarities to ‘Take Care,’ but this is Beach House we’re talking about. So, while the melodies and crescendos follow a similar pattern, even evolving into rousing declaration to end the track, the way about which Victoria pronounces herself on the track is entirely different. For starters, and the most noticeably thing about ‘PPP,’ is her voice, choosing to hum in a spoken word. They’re preparatory measures for a next life, signifying the importance of the moment through a vocal technique she hasn’t used previously before. It helps to note that ‘PPP’ is the standout climax to Depression Cherry, a significant shift in tone as the next three tracks take a turn to more melancholy trances. Before that moment comes though comes an epic, as ‘PPP’ erupts into a fiery blaze of perfectionist Dream Pop, falling and swaying, crying and yelling, pulling out all the strings to end on a high note. LeGrand’s desperate pleas through her “ooh’s” to end the track are a remarkable statement on Beach House’s discography, a collective measurement taking into account their four previous albums and merging it into a two-plus minute moment of euphoria.

Auburn & Ivory
Beach House

Often times, especially on their earlier, more stripped down works, Beach House has a tendency to get really, for lack of a better word, creepy. Early on, before they fully blossomed into their Dream Pop role, this was their shtick. With Victoria’s haunting low end voice protruding from rickety orchestrations, songs like ‘Auburn & Ivory’ excelled in uneasy places. The predominant harpsichord pandering along makes great use of pacing, where, when expecting a two-step similar to a human walk, you get a slightly rushed version with three interchangeable notes. Along with the distant echoes and LeGrand’s bravado, ‘Auburn & Ivory’ doesn’t waste time taking listeners back to a fictionalized version of the Victorian era. It creeks along, rising in the chorus along with LeGrand’s voice that deepens while simultaneously getting louder, her dominant approach to the musicianship gives off even more eery vibes entirely contradictory of Dream Pop’s typically breezy approach. But even then, after the song continues down this ravaged road, it suddenly escalates into something much more sinister. Virtually out of nowhere LeGrand begins to tear apart “I’ll wait for you, I’ll wait for once,” that last word leading into the next line as everything collapses like a fervor dream that lasted no longer than ten seconds.

All Your Yeahs
Thank Your Lucky Stars

It’s the closest Beach House has gotten to the Chromatics, with an eery re-imagining of a late night drive. After years of the duo on top of Dream Pop it’s a shock more haven’t seen the potential of them gliding into the night to take on Downtempo Synth Pop. With ‘All Your Yeahs,’ while it does eventually leave this starry-eyed place, it's the closest they’ve ever gotten. A simple guitar note carries the first half, switching up right as tedium sets in, joining LeGrand as she foretells the girl in the stories escape into the night. And while the first half is great and unique for the group, the second half, when they meld both sides of the coin, is far more provocative. A jutting keyboard line protrudes from the distance as Victoria begins to yelp the title in what would be considered the song’s first, and only, chorus. It’s a perfect mold, a flavorful addition to Beach House’s discography that sees them escaping the day time for a more lush, ambient background. It also serves as a track that doesn’t do anything wrong, serving its purpose, as it comes and goes without a quip of a sound to refute its grandness.

Used To Be
Teen Dream

Used To Be’ begins as one of Beach House’s most unassuming tracks. Sonically it resembles a slight precursor to Bloom’s wavy, sea-faring ways, while adhering to the whimsical joy of adolescence Teen Dream fosters. But, towards its beginning, ‘Used To Be’ is nothing remarkable, with plainly-played drums and keyboards walking over LeGrand’s prototypical romanticizing. As it evolves though, so does its majesty. Slowly unfolding and engulfing the borders and filling the soundscape with Beach House’s prototypical instrumentation. Brightly lit hues of fleeting dreams sway gently throughout the song’s first half before flipping discs into a melancholy trance with seamless ease. The finale sees LeGrand wishing, hoping, wanting her long lost love to come home, like a pre-telecommunication wife waiting for a return letter to be sent through the mail. Beach House is always good at bringing out the strangest of comparisons. 


On the mostly linear Bloom there was need for a story capper. A track that represents the whole album without actually sounding like it. In comes ‘Irene,’ the nautical theme taken to tremendous lengths as, after a long trip in rocky waves, the sight of land finally approaches. The grandness of it builds, the mystery of this new discovery, as LeGrand wallows in a forgotten past. It’s noting that for all the hoopla Beach House makes about “her,” the pivotal character in many of their songs, their albums seem to always end on more universal terms. ‘Days Of Candy’ did it with a funeral send-off to the stars and ‘Irene’ does it with the unraveling of a land uninhabited. Over two grueling minutes of musical excellency LeGrand repeats in unison “it’s a strange paradise,” as the waves behind her crash. Predictably it fades into the unknown, leaving a lasting impression thanks to the rare moment when Beach House doesn’t mind stretching its beauty.

Days Of Candy
Depression Cherry

A haunting portrayal of death. ‘Days Of Candy’ falls elegantly in line with Beach House’s impeccable record for closers, creating a swelling track that mimics a funeral procession. Much like death in poetic form, their eulogy is gorgeous, lingering, and decisive. For the first time in their nine year career the duo chose to receive help from outside their sphere, bringing in a nine-piece choir to recite the chants of a life lost. Clocking in as Depression Cherry’s longest track, ‘Days Of Candy’ works in movements, not satisfied with a plastic palate that the group usually works with, siphoning through spheres of influences to make a work that’s truly representative of death in all forms. It’s nostalgic, starry-eyed, and expertly crafted, weaving through moments like no other track in Beach House’s discography can do. LeGrand’s drawn out sighing, her voice at the end of its breath, encapsulates the tone perfectly. And it isn’t until her role comes full circle, towards the track’s cathartic finale, that the feelings bottled up in the previous 40 minutes come unraveling outwards. “The universe is riding off with you” she wails in unison with the drums, a send-off like none other.

Home Again

On Devotion’s final go round LeGrand first flaunts her dexterous ability to resoundingly wrap things up, by making something that’s eerily similar to the past stories despite sounding uncharacteristically divine. There’s always a resounding sense of calmness amongst the constant fluidity, like someone coming home to rest after a restless journey. ‘Home Again’ might be the best at describing this feeling, a quiet melody plays throughout, it sounds almost realistic. Tiny finger snaps and percussions lead LeGrand who swoons over her love, the building within the silence throughout might be their most peculiarly brilliant thing yet. And while ‘Days Of Candy’ broke the trend ‘Home Again’ fits right in to send the album off on a one line rendezvous, hitting all the pleasure points. Her breathless recitation of the album and song title in unison is just breathtaking,  it’s as if Beach House knows to save their best moments for the final closing minutes. Timed perfectly, finishing Devotion on ‘Home Again’s’ lullaby one would be remiss to not drift off into their dream space. A compliment of the upmost, mind you.

One Thing
Thank Your Lucky Stars

It’s crunchy, cathartic, and undeniably brilliant. The bonafide centerpiece on Thank Your Lucky Stars, ‘One Thing’ glides effortlessly it’s almost a shock Beach House is able to pull it off. Scally really shows off his guitar work here as well. It’s not as drastically noticeable as ‘Sparks,’ but it’s just as well done. And apart from Depression Cherry’s standout, ‘One Thing’ mares the singer and the guitarist better than ever before, with LeGrand despairingly crooning over the rigid barriers, providing an antithesis to the noisy conglomerate behind her. While they never get entangled, the drums and guitars don’t get too complex, simply two stepping around LeGrand’s lofty vocals, allowing her to flex her vocal chords. Those chords never shown off better than in the chorus, as her voice shifts tones mid-word, multiple times. It’s really a beautiful thing to witness, an artist coming to terms with the changing guard of her background as the devices used to arrange behind her become ever more aggressive. The amateur aloofness of their earlier works are a long forgotten past, the intricate works of professionals are on full display on ‘One Thing,’ it’s a clear end point in following the path of talent Beach House has seen. 


The opening measures on Bloom’s introduction might be the most memorable in all of Beach House’s discography, and for good reason. ‘Myth’ saw the duo branch into unfamiliar territory, full blown Dream Pop with a darker edge. For the first time they had a sonic concept, relying not on the childlike ignorance that dominated their earlier records, but an adult like journey that felt like night time, and since they they’ve never turned back. The bright sounds of their first three records changed with a distant buoys drifting in the night. ‘Myth’ still retained that overarching charm that first lured in Beach House fans, but welcomed others who were looking for something with sinister undertones. It was as if with one swooping track Beach House flipped the coin and began getting to work on perfecting the darker side. ‘Myth’ opened Bloom with familiar origins, the problems festering in a stumbling relationship, losing composure as the two begin to drift apart. The music accompanied the shift beautifully, a demanding sign that there was more to the lyrics of Beach House than they first let on. A striking emotional tug lassoed listeners through feelings of regret, selfishness, and despair, all surrounded by a ravishing display of musical purity.

Master Of None
Beach House

You know, I’m on the side of Beach House fans who laud post Sub Pop days while respecting their past, but there comes a division when you truly invest in their earlier work and understand the importance of atmosphere. Thankfully, if anyone has difficulty with this there’s music videos of the early days with Victoria and Alex, featuring bizarro visual accompaniment before the duo dropped their faces off their work. ‘Heart Of Chambers’ and ‘Gila’ are two notable ones, but ‘Master Of None’ still perfectly encapsulates the Beach House aura bothx sonically and visually. It takes place on a stage with Victoria playing the role of the awkward talent show singer before moving on to more absurdist, but entirely practical acts adorned by antique placemats, sparking drapes, and cheap, cheesy costumes. LeGrand’s distant vocals, melodramatic keyboard work, and fluid crescendos make ‘Master Of None’ an absolute masterwork in musical elegance and flavorful ambience. The lack of textural focus here, as compared to their future layered works, helps to accentuate their Dreamy vibe greater than any amount of synth work could accomplish. And for their debut release, ‘Master Of None’ shows off the best example of their early Pop elements, the lyrical and melodic fidelity turns each verse into a glorified chorus, masking boundaries with continuous beauty.

Depression Cherry

To many the lead single to Depression Cherry was a bit of a false hope. Few were disappointed, in fact it was one of the best songs of 2015, but the album sonically didn’t relate. In just over five minutes though LeGrand and Scally try their hand at their sister genre, Shoegaze, or at least a simple overview of it. Every facet of ‘Sparks’ intrigues, especially from the get go. When you think a oddly distorted repeating background vocal of LeGrand lays claim to the most interesting part, a glaring guitar riff comes into play, drenched in reverb, glorious in its execution. Throw in some well layered drums and chimes, a chorus that bevels into the distinct noise of the background, and a finale ripe for Beach House pickings, and you got an all-time great. It’s interesting that for its obvious uniqueness amongst the duo’s discography ‘Sparks’ still retains all its grandiosity based solely on its laurels and not its gimmick. The track stands as a crowning achievement to Beach House naysayers who feel they can only successfully develop one sound. Let’s just hope they can continue to put to rest those doubts.

Take Care
Teen Dream

It’s definitive Beach House, that’s the best way to describe ‘Take Care.’ Gather every conception you have of the duo, mash it into a stew, and what emerges is the closer to Teen Dream. A track that harps on the past of their dreamy amateurish origins, lounges in the swelling nature of the present, and prepares for the tone shift of the future. It cascades like none other, warps LeGrand’s vocals over shifting transitions like their later works, and retains that nostalgic vision. And as was the case with ‘Home Again’ they’ve mastered the craft of carrying a phrase till its absolute exhaustion, working it to the bone, joining the repetition of it all with poignant romanticism. “I’ll take care of you” is the phrase, one so simply, so elegant, so endearing that it’s perfect Beach House fodder. The duo has a fanatic way of creation, turning a simple line into an impactful memory, usually saving them for last as was the case here. ‘Take Care’ also stands are one of LeGrand’s greatest performances, commanding the mic with a presence that’s unlike anything she’s done before. She’s loud, in your face, startling, and prominent, much like a reclusive figure coming out of the woodwork to lead a pack without a leader. 


It was tough nailing down the #1 for Beach House. Admittedly it’s due to their consistent palate that narrows the spectrum of bad to good, but really a handful could be up for the definitive #1. And yet, I always seemed to return to ‘Gila.’ While it certainly wasn’t prototypical Beach House, residing as the centerpiece to Devotion, it was a grand track that acts like a duo wanting to experience a grand scope but lacked the essential pieces. What’s left is a group making possibly the most endearing track known to man, an adorable collage that works very simplistic drums, guitars, and keyboards with a haunting melody that parades around like dancing ghosts. I can’t go without mentioning the music video as well, with LeGrand as a naive musician before the fame, enjoying the time she has with the music she wants to make. ‘Gila’ showed to an extent the vocal mastery LeGrand had as well, like a abruptly blossoming flower, she squeaks, squeals, and panders around the bouncy guitar plucks. It’s effortless synergy, two halves in perfect tandem, standing atop Devotion’s diverse as the truest sense of their vision. It’s also one of the few tracks to use LeGrand as a background vocal, an instrument herself, rather than hiring more vocalists to join her, further heightening the homesick feeling caught in their music. With ‘Gila,’ Beach House made a subtle masterpiece. A track that was never poised for greatness but with the greatness that made it it had no place to go but atop that pedestal.

No comments:

Post a Comment