WARNING – ULTIMATE CHEESE AHEAD ON THESE DESCRIPTIONS:
Beach House has long been a group, if not THE group that is the most intertwined with the relationship between my partner and I. There are so many memories and feelings attached to these songs that they’ve been permanently marked, even the ones I would binge and fantasize to in high school. So be warned, I realize that Beach House is a massively popular band, but damn do these songs mean a lot to me. Also I don’t got no editor on my own personal blog so heh hehhhh get ready for pure, unfiltered WARM VISIONS, BABY!
A few weeks ago I saw Beach House live for the fourth time. It was a wholly unsatisfying show at Brooklyn’s biggest club venue. The crowd around me seemed uninterested in the music. There was a couple grinding. There was a couple yelling at his girlfriend to “be quiet and take a xanax”. I felt physically and emotionally removed from the music. They didn’t even play anything off Devotion. It got me thinking about the past ten years and how this band has really been a constant presence in my life, and how their massive influence may be a chapter that’s ending. I’m assuming that this concert just has me pessimistic about the whole thing and I’ll easily jump back into their euphoria soon enough, but I wanted to look back at how Beach House has somehow seamlessly narrated my late teens and early/mid-20s almost seamlessly through their albums.
The first time I saw them was when they opened for Grizzly Bear at the Michigan Theater in the fall of 2009. I didn’t know them at the time, but they’d very quickly blossom into one of my favorite bands of the decade thanks to their third album Teen Dream. It came at the perfect time for me – 2010 was a magical year in terms of “getting into” indie rock & underground music in general, with new albums from Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem and Yeasayer right at the start of the year. 2009/2010 was, after all, the “year indie broke” as many say. With sufficient hype around the record, along with my overly romantic teen sensibilities (knowing I was going to be leaving my home state and having to make new friends, finding extra sentimentality in mundane things), Beach House was handily able to enhance everyday feelings and scenarios into hazy bliss with their dense, wide-lens version of dream pop. I saw them later that year at Pitchfork Fest and ranked Teen Dream as my second-favorite record of 2010.
Cut to 2012 with Bloom, another very pivotal point in my life. Just started going steady with someone in college. Butterflies, romance and all that. This period helped me reconnect with Devotion as all Beach House music was just so directly associated with the positive feelings that came from being in a budding relationship. This leads into 2015’s Depression Cherry, somehow coming at the perfect time when my partner and I were about to embark on our time being long distance. She was moving to Paris, and I was living at home & working in NYC. Before she left we saw them together in New Haven in what was one of the most magical shows I’d ever been to. The setlist was perfect, I cried a bunch, the light show was great. BH quickly followed with Thank Your Lucky Stars, an album that continues to be ambiguous for me. Did this burn me out? To this day I can’t remember a single melody from this album. I’m sure in a bit I’ll find some meaning behind it. Then we’re here in the present day with 2018’s 7, an album that got massive amounts of blog hype, but really did not connect with me. It matched the darker moods that I had been experiencing lately, but it wasn’t the Beach House I wanted, I guess.
One thing to know to simplify this list: at the basic, nearly atomic level, there are two kinds of Beach House songs: the epic kinds and the syrupy kinds. Do they overlap? Of course, but like I said – epic and syrupy. That’s what you need to know. Beach House’s first two records, Beach House and Devotion primarily engage in the syrupy kind. Slow, oozing songs that can barely keep their eyes open. Are they bored? Are they tired? Are they so overcome with emotion it’s hard for them to cope with reality? That’s for you to decide. It’s not until Teen Dream in 2010 where they either have the budget or the songwriting ambition to make the overwhelming, blissful, arena-pleasers that the epic songs are.
You can hear the embryonic stages of “epic” songs on Devotion like “Wedding Bell” and “Heart of Chambers” – any tune where the tempo picks up and the gorgeous vocals of Victoria Legrand start doing some melodic gymnastics. Now we look at their most recent record, 7, which is almost entirely comprised of epic songs (that feel syrupy yet unsatisfying to me). Gotta please the festival crowds these days! Also a good indication of deciphering a Beach House song – does it have almost excessive cymbals? Hell yeah brother you’ve got an epic, anthemic song on your hands. Always pay attention to the cymbals, people!
READ MORE to see my 10 favorite Beach House songs!
- “10 Mile Stereo” [Teen Dream]
“10 Mile Stereo” is the absolute perfect representative of Beach House’s “epic” style of songs. Starting off with a clear, energizing guitar pattern and simple kick drum, Legrand lays out the groundwork of the track before atmospheric keyboard and additional percussion filters in. The the first chorus hits and the keys are arcing towards the heavens, touching the cosmos. Legrand is hype now too, hitting triumphant melodies while piloting the star cruiser higher and higher into the stratosphere. Now at this point in a normal song, you’d think we’d descend back down to Earth for the verse. Au contraire, lovely reader. Beach House continues to amp up the volume through the next verse, now adding a lovely ascending keyboard arpeggio to go along with the other layers of instrumentals. Alex Scally’s guitar work is minimal at best, continuing to do a light chugging rhythm that’s pretty innocuous for the most part But what’s that? You forgot about the drums? Well not anymore, as crashes of cymbals build up and release like stars exploding across the universe. Scally revs up to a scintillating tremolo to match the skying keyboards. To really put the cherry on top of this epic odyssey, the final word echoing into the vast expanse is “forever”, marking that even though the song may be over, it’s still floating out there, somewhere.
- “Turtle Island” [Devotion]
And next up, the best representation of a slow, syrupy, romantic Beach House song. “Turtle Island” is a song that sounds like it’s either falling asleep standing up, or so overcome with heavy feelings of affection for another it can barely keep up with its regular brain functions. The song’s tempo is so slow, with potentially the most simple drum machine beat known to man. Everything in this song flows like molasses. Like everything is moving underwater. The guitars and keyboards shimmer on the surface while Legrand’s voice echoes delicately into the distance. It’s a slow dance after a long day, it’s an embrace in the nighttime depths of an outdoor motel pool, it’s one hand holding another in the darkness. I cried when I heard this song performed live in 2015.
- “Silver Soul” [Teen Dream]
I also cried when I heard this song performed live in 2015. This song kind of bridges the two worlds of epic and syrup, but thanks to Teen Dream‘s overall sonic profile, it errs more towards the bigger side of things, especially with its crashing cymbals and prominent, dirging keys. I can definitely see it fitting in on “Devotion” if it was a bit more lo-fi and led by a drum machine. Legrand’s chorus of “it is happening again” is also just so easy to get wrapped up in, with an infectious melody and overdubbed vocals capping it off. So relatable too – just what is happening again? Well that’s up to the listener to decide. Just a sublime track, perfectly crafted for emotional wreckage.
- “Levitation” [Depression Cherry]
I’m a big fan of album sequencing. Having a good opening track is usually KEY for me, as it is for a lot of people. “Levitation” is the best opening track out of any Beach House album. It sets the perfect mood for the rest of Depression Cherry. The song slowly builds things up in a gorgeous way, adding in more and more instrumentation as it climbs higher. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Although instead of going higher and higher to reach an unreal peak, the song is content to start coasting and observe its surroundings. What does it see? A bit past the three minute mark is one of the most magical moments in any Beach House song, or frankly any song of this decade. A flash in the darkness. Little bursts of light in the form of guitar and keys chiming together, flickering in the air outside a plane window, a faraway signal calling for you. You’re lost in its hypnotic allure. The world filters out from view, only the beacon remains. “There’s a place I want to take you” – Legrand is calling for you from the unknown above, “As our bodies lift up slowly”. A bright light opens up, everything filters out and is swallowed up into pure, shimmering energy. Now THAT’s how you start an album. Does the rest of it deliver? Sure, it’s a blissful experience but hoo boy, nothing tops this song after the three minute mark. Allow yourself to submit to its cosmic glow.
- “Wild” [Bloom]
When I first heard this song back in 2012, I initially scoffed because of the goofy drum machine that kicks the track off: “I had a keyboard with that same cheesy cymbal when I was 4”, I thought to myself. Then the titanic synth and chiming guitars wash in and I was like “ohhh this is actually my favorite Beach House song then, isn’t it?” I’d say the guitar on this song is the absolute star of this song. Legrand’s vocal lines and lyrics are great as always, but Scally’s guitar shines through more than ever before. Sure he gets relegated to polite tremolo from time to time, but the little accents he adds to the song are vital to its motion forward, like the little lines he adds to the verse. Plus, the cymbals… they’re back. Beach House loves the big cymbals. All the while, the lo-fi drum machine continues throughout.
- “Lemon Glow” 
The first taste of 7, like the first taste of Depression Cherry (“Sparks, not on the list but listen to it anyways), got me SUPER hype for the full album. I mean, I’m not completely wrong in thinking that way. This song is by and far the most “up” thing they’d created until that point, but at the same time the darkest with a woozy, hypnotic synth line, an ominous vocal delivery from Legrand, distorted & crackling guitars, dissonant synthesized voices, and thundering percussion. Sounds and textures creep in and out of view, like there are hidden assailants avoiding your gaze each time you turn around. It’s constantly moving, trying to leave the psychedelic house of mirrors it’s gotten trapped in. There’s an objective and it is to escape. It couldn’t be further from the pillowy, comfortable sounds that the band laid upon on Devotion and Teen Dream, although the adventurous “10 Mile Stereo” seemed like an ambitious daydream, while “Lemon Glow” feels like a stressed-out decompression. On the same hand, it’s totally equipped to throw a festival crowd into a frothing mess. Despite my pessimistic tone, it’s a fantastic and satisfying song. Wish I could feel the same way about the rest of 7!
- “Used To Be” [Teen Dream]
I LOVE the way this song stacks on instrumentation. It’s a chipper, loving song with great overdubbed vocal harmonies, dual melodies from piano and guitar, and of course great use of climactic cymbals. This song also reminds me of “Levitation” in a way because around the 2:40 mark, the bottom of the track drops out, allowing the listener to be weightless among the remaining pieces of the track. Elements progressively start to come back in, but this period of floating is a great reprieve after the song is constantly ramping up. There’s also an earlier version of this song that was released as a post-Devotion single on Carpark that seems to be a clear bridge between the two album’s sound. The song is still dreamy and uncanny, but it’s bright and jovial at the same time. One big difference is the deep, lo-fi guitar strum that’s replaced by fuller percussion in the studio version. Also there’s either a very bright, kid’s piano or glockenspiel on this early single version. Either way, both versions are gorgeous.
- “Lazuli” [Bloom]
The obvious star of the show on “Lazuli” – the glittering synth line that starts and ends the song. Even though it isn’t completely visible during most of the verses, you always have a notion it’s continuing to twinkle in the background while Legrand and Scally intertwine melodies. Not so much a homogenous sonic wash as other songs, rather so many different, interlocking parts all executing functions all at once.
- “Heart Of Chambers” [Devotion]
It’s on Devotion, so you know it’s a gorgeous, syrupy delight. Low lighting, woozy keyboards & guitars, like you’re in the lower level of a ship with chandeliers hanging for some reason. The chandeliers slowly sway with the pounding currents, lightly jingling the jewels hanging from its arms and throwing odd shadows across a slowly-emptying ballroom. Kind of reminds me of the ballroom scene in Phantom Thread. The vocal work on this track is also gorgeous, with Legrand really hitting high notes as Scally concurrently scrapes his lower register.
- “Saltwater” [Beach House]
A slow burn of all slow burns. If Devotion is syrupy, then their self-titled album is snail slime… of love. A fuzzy synth line and minimal drum line back up Legrand’s hazy vocals. The whole song sounds so far away, like a pleasant dream or fragrance in the distance. Love the little touches of chimes in the latter half of the track as well. Kind of wild to hear where the band has gone from here – what has changed in their sound and more importantly, what hasn’t. Crazy how they’ve been pretty consistent throughout. Would be interested hearing the songs on self-titled redone this year.