Review of Devotion Album by Beach House

Beach House
Album Review

Beach House Devotion Album

Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Beach House are Alex Scally and Paris-born Victoria Legrand (the latter the niece of French film composer Michel Legrand, it says here) and this would appear to be their second album.

I'm not sure I'm quite convinced by it, though. ‘Wedding Bell’ has a lilting rhythm and a shifting melody that immediately sets a tone of hazy, end-of-summer sunshine and lazy days. A fuzzed-out guitar plays a simple solo and Legrand stretches her vocal cords to decent effect. It's simple, uncomplicated, stuff and it sounds very sweet. ‘You Came To Me’ begins with an airy beat and some arpeggiated, almost harp-ish synth. There's some very plaintive melodies, sung in mannered tones. There's a waltzy, fairground feel to it, but it is the most polite fairground you've ever been to. Definitely no smell of hot dogs, onions and the fumes from diesel generators, just toffee apples and candy floss and popcorn. And everybody always wins at hook-a-duck.

‘Gila’ dials into that very lazy feeling again, but perhaps Legrand's vocal performance jars slightly. I'm getting the word ‘chanteuse’, and I'm wondering whether a more understated delivery might have worked better. The keyboard sounds wash together very nicely with the vocal harmonies and the guitar towards the end. Much more like it. ‘Turtle Island’ slows the pace even further - and is that a harmonium? It might be. Perfect for conjuring up a mood of wistful melancholy, anyway, and the spindly reverbed guitar's a perfect fit. There's some very sweet chord progressions, but Legrand's vocals occasionally sound a little forced and at odds with the mood of the music. It's almost like she's trying to do too much at times, when a more relaxed approach might actually be preferable.

‘Holy Dances’ sees Legrand occasionally flirt with being almost out of tune, and on the higher notes, she can sound a bit breathy. There's also the irksome suspicion that Beach House tend to write to a formula. That said, there's some interesting percussion here, although the vocal melody's a bit hit and miss and again I'm scratching my head and wondering whether a simpler approach might have worked. It's also difficult for these poor old ears to pick out the lyrics. The instrumentation's fine - sparse and sweet and dreamy. ‘All The Year’ continues in much the same vein - in fact on first listen I actually though it was the same song - with slidey guitar and organ against some very simple percussion. And boy, do they love the reverb.

‘Heart Of Chambers’ begins with some promise, which soon recedes in the realisation that Beach House are perhaps shuffling the deck a little. There's no real surprises by this time, although it's worth noting that Legrand's sweeping vocal performance suits this song a lot better. The sound's fuller - due to the addition of simple bass and synth, mainly - and it gives her more to bounce off. ‘Some Things Last’ again mines the seam of wistful melancholy that runs through this record. It's all a bit ... well ... glum, and the fact that it sounds like it was recorded in the rain doesn't help. ‘Astronaut’ is a it more perky, with its interwoven arpeggios, but by this time the over-reliance on one organ sound and copious reverb is beginning to grate a little. A fuzzy guitar pops its head round the door to say hello, which is a nice touch, but then we're pretty much back to standard Beach House fare. ‘D.A.R.L.I.N.G.’ sadly kills any momentum that ‘Astronaut’ may have provided, and is pretty forgettable. ‘Home Again’ dodges the notion of being a big finale by being more of the same.

Hmmmm. A rum one this. I'd say it was at least two or three songs too long for a start, and it lacks variety and hooks. I am incapable of humming any of these tunes, and they tend to wash together, so that I'm left with the impression of a mood rather than the impression of songs. In fact, Beach House come across as a bit of a one-trick pony. Which is fine - but the rules of one-trick ponyness are: (1) have a good trick, and (2) be very good at the trick. Nagging doubts remain as to whether Beach House score on either count.

Jon Watson

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