Endless (Late) Summer
Local Duo Beach House Drapes Its Dulcet Sunset Melodies Throughout Debut Album
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"There's this sound cloud that we're in," Victoria Legrand says as she sips a cup of tea outside a Charles Village café on a warm early fall afternoon, just a few hours before her band Beach House is slated to perform at this year's Reverent Fog Festival at the Talking Head. "And the melodies for our songs just float above that."
She laughs off her comment seconds later, though she's not necessarily wrong. Beach House, her duo with Alex Scally, traffics in the type of diffuse melody that has far more in common with the sky above than the ground below. And with a just-released, self-titled debut album in addition to a busy autumn full of shows, the duo is poised to float its buoyant tunes across a much larger stage.
The 24-year-old Scally was born and raised in Baltimore, but the Paris-born Legrand, 25, arrived only two years ago, lured by cheap rents, old friends, and a wealth of musical possibilities. After a mutual acquaintance introduced them, the pair began collaborating as members of Daggerhearts, a group that explored a darker and more rhythmically propulsive electronic sound. When an unexpected downturn in productivity began to sideline that band last year, Scally and Legrand turned to their four-track recorder. "We started making recordings of these softer--but still dense--musical compositions on the side," Scally says. "But then it slowly started to become our main interest."
These sessions gradually blossomed into an almost manic burst of energy during the fall and winter of 2005. The two, newly christened as Beach House, began writing a batch of songs that translated their basic melodic ideas into grand songs of sculpted keyboards and celestial guitar refrains, bouncing ideas back and forth between themselves until the pieces all started to fit. "When we write songs, we're just paying really close attention while all these accidents are happening," Scally says. "And we're trying to catch the best ones."
"It's just natural, what you allow to fall into place," Legrand says. "We don't consciously try to make it sound like anything else. These are just sounds that we like."
"We were working so fast not because we had a fan base or any encouragement," Scally says. "We were just so obsessed. There was a four- or five-month period where it was just insane. I felt like we were racing."
"It's a fury," Legrand says. "When you're a writer, you have a little fever. It's a sickness--you have to get it out. You're sweating."
By the time February 2006 arrived, the two had completed a dulcet song cycle and wanted to document their momentum at its peak, though they had only played a handful of shows at that point. Beach House recorded the whole of its Carpark Records debut in Scally's basement with the help of local mainstays Rob Girardi and Adam Cooke. While the two acknowledge that their songs became fairly immutable once completed--thanks in part to the backing tracks they created to play along with live--they admit that the recording process revealed new sides of the music. "At least two or three of the songs on the record, the tracks that were used weren't as perfect," Scally says. "There were mistakes or things that weren't right, but they sounded much better. Rob was really good at guiding us into making the right decisions."
For Legrand, the most difficult part of the sessions was overcoming the sense of alienation that often comes with studio time. "You think you know what you're singing," she says. "You think you know how you're singing. You think you know what it sounds like until you get in front of the microphone and you're playing it and it gets played back to you. Then the song starts to tell you what it really sounds like."
Cut live with minimal overdubs, Beach House mingles lithe slide guitar with gauzy organ lines that stretch across Legrand's forlorn vocals. A classically trained singer, her voice echoes through the sorrowful refrains of haunting ballads as Scally drapes his bright, airy strings over and around sweetly melodic turns of phrase that gently edge the band's music away from generic melancholy. Synthesizers buzz and rumble in time with lethargic beats, creating an effect akin to hearing classic pop songs in slow motion. "[Wzt Hearts'] Jason Urick said we sounded like `I Heard It Through the Grapevine' played at eight RPMs," Legrand laughs. Considering the duo's mutual love of Motown singers and the label's production style, it's an apt comparison. Retro somnambulance, however, is hardly Scally and Legrand's aim. Beach House manages to take its classic affections and reframe them in a woozy modern context.
Beach House takes the stage at Reverent Fog just as darkness falls. The dull orange flicker of a nearby streetlamp replaces the distant twilight as Scally and Legrand work their way through a genteel set, bouncing their vocal harmonies and hazy instrumentals off the surrounding brick walls of Davis Street in front of the Talking Head. Armed only with a keyboard, a guitar, and a CD player full of backing tracks, Beach House's effortless lope marks the graceful comedown of a long day spent baking in the sun. As the two stroll through their set a calm gradually falls over the crowd, almost as if the pair were singing lullabies.