Beach House – Like smoke and mirrors

August 25, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, August 22, 2008.

Beach House bring their low-fi pop to Melbourne, writes Dan Rule.

VICTORIA Legrand has a wonderfully cryptic way with words. Like the arcane analogue vignettes she crafts as one half of Baltimore boy-girl pop duo Beach House, her conversation twists and flows with ornate metaphor and oddity-riddled analogy.

She speaks of creative impulses as “uncultured pearls”; she likens her relationship with bandmate Alex Scally to a “volcanic core”, a “very fortunate lightning bolt”.

“Certain sets of words just fit together like beads on a string,” she says, chatting from Baltimore on the eve of the duo’s first Australian tour.

“It’s just like, ‘that has to be a lyric!’ I’ve often used things people have said to me as lyrics because I just couldn’t get over how, you know, crushing or romantic or lonely or just simple the words fitting together were. Kind of like certain objects, there’s just so much more to them than their appearance.”

It’s a sensibility that informs Beach House’s low-fi pop sketches. Since they drifted on to the American indie scene in 2006, their languid organ and guitar-based compositions – not to mention the smoke-brushed hues of Legrand’s vocal – have come to recall the dreamy lilt of Nico as much as the narcotic psychedelia of Mazzy Star.

But Beach House’s sound, captured in their hazy self-titled 2006 debut and this year’s shimmering follow-up Devotion, is well and truly their own.

The operatically trained Legrand, 27, niece of French composer Michel Legrand, doesn’t speak in a vernacular of influences, but rather, that of a very intimate and visceral connection: “The part of you that writes and the part of you that hears a melody in your head – that approaches a keyboard and doesn’t know what’s going to happen when you put your fingers on there – that’s a very different part of you to the one that is trained and the one that listened to music of kinds.”

Music runs deep for the pair. While 26-year-old Scally grew up playing bass and guitar in Baltimore before moving to Ohio to study geology, Legrand remembers an inherent will to sing throughout her childhood, which, after short stints in Paris and Maryland, was spent predominantly in Philadelphia.

“I never intended to become an opera singer,” she says. “But I just loved singing so much that it seemed like the right thing to do. I learned a great deal about how to manipulate and breathe and use muscles, and those things have helped me greatly.”

Conversely, the birth of Beach House was as much about luck as good management. Legrand had been studying theatre in Paris but became disillusioned with acting. She moved to Baltimore on a whim – “a weird gut feeling” – in late 2004, where she was soon introduced to Scally. The pair felt an immediate connection and spent the summer of 2005 cooped up in Scally’s basement, creating the outline of what would become their 2006 debut.

“Everything about it was easy and was very natural,” recalls Legrand. “It was just like two friends being around one another and talking about music and loving music and loving organs and loving pianos and loving four-tracks, and this kind of intense baby was born. We were two people who had very similar colours in their minds.”

With its dense, fog-like, analogue textures, rudimentary synthesised percussion and pealing guitars, Beach House was championed by critics, including influential website Pitchfork Media, and the duo was soon the talk of the indie community.

Devotion is a huge stride forward. The woozy guitars and floating vocals of Heart of Chambers and the swaying melodies of Some Things Last are two of the band’s finest moments yet. Legrand’s lyrics, meanwhile, portray the idea of devotion as both entrapment and romance.

“It’s kind of a game with ourselves,” she muses. “The things we want; the things we can’t have; the things we shouldn’t be thinking about but we do think about them all the time. It’s like a game of smoke and mirrors, you know.”

It’s also the place in which Legrand finds the beauty of making art.

“When you can use the confusion of infatuation and personal conflict to create something that has light and dark to it and can move and affect other people, then it’s not just something that’s a deep poison inside of you,” she says.

“It’s a growth and it’s alive and it’s beautiful.”

Beach House play tonight at Roxanne, city, , Tuesday at Northcote Uniting Church (tickets – Northcote Social Club) and Wednesday at the Toff in Town. Devotion (Mistletone/Fuse).


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