Bella Union, 2008
Baltimore’s Beach House first appeared in 2006 with their self-titled debut, a gorgeous collection of dizzying songs built around Victoria Legrand’s awash-with-reverb harmonies, church-style organ and Alex Scally’s languidly strummed guitar. It was their style and approach, reminiscent of Mazzy Star, Yo La Tengo and This Mortal Coil, that found favour with a like-minded audience. Their sophomore release, Devotion (Bella Union) retains the same essence that made their debut such a captivating listen, but pushes it beyond the realms of peer and influence into a body of work that now resembles none but themselves.
Devotion lays further claim to the cathedral, almost hymn-like approach to their music, with devotion and all its themes being the occupying influence. This is evident from the start with the quasi-country harpsichord and Hawaiian surf slide guitar feel of “Wedding Bells”. Legrand demurely offering “in your head, in your bed, oh, but your wish is my command.” The decision to move away from the simple patter of the drum machine that occupied their debut offers the new songs a more organic feel, from the sparse brush snare sweeps on “Wedding Bells” to the shaker, tambourine and handclaps that form the foundation of “Holy Dances”. There’s an abundance of little nuances littered throughout the songs which help alleviate the general slow-burning tempo.
“Heart of Chambers” finds Legrand trying to mend a broken relationship, dispensing lines like “I’d like to be someone you’d finally love to love again” in a way they’ve never been sung before. Their cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last a Long Time” places itself neatly within the context of the album, Legrand calling out — “I still have your picture on my wall,” turning Johnston’s plaintive original into a folky church hymn. There’s touches of Motown and 60s girl groups in the carnival waltz of “Astronaut” as it shifts into a brief reading of The Ronette’s “Be My Baby” and in the insistent organ of “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” where Legrand coyly sings “I know you will return, so I won’t be sad.” As it fades into the final track “Home Again” Legrand finds herself at the door of her “constant home of my devotion” as the bass drum locks into a heartbeat rhythm and the song winds its way to a close.
With all its incumbent yearning and pining, a perverse but inspired move would have been to push the release date forward two weeks and unveil Devotion on Valentine’s Day, as in many ways this is worth much more than a tawdry verse on a two pound card. With nary a misstep in sight, Beach House has turned in one of the beguiling and beautiful, not to mention essential, albums of the year. File under broken hearts and loves lost and found.