In the last two years Beach House has crafted a comfortable niche for itself, somewhere between atmospheric indie-rock and baroque pop. This Baltimore duo, consisting of childhood friends Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, burst onto the indie-pop scene in 2006 with their self-titled debut. In many ways, Beach House is the antithesis of the burgeoning indie scene. Avoiding electronics and experimentation on Devotion, their latest release, Beach House crafted beautiful melodies with nothing more than a guitar, an organ and Legrand’s croon. Equal parts homeliness and heartbreak, the songs swirl around you in a languid haze of beauty.
Not wanting to waste any time, Beach House opens Devotion with one of its most driving songs to date, “Wedding Bell.” With the trademark haunted drum machine in tow and hypnotizing guitar lines mixing with Legrand’s voice and organ, Beach House gives us a glimpse of its new direction. While the songs are still all mid-tempo, the chord progressions have become more interesting and there’s a stronger rhythmic backbone than before. The melodies are more developed, sometimes recalling old R&B and sometimes echoing ’60s and ’70s pop. One of the album’s highlights, “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.,” owes as much to the Beach Boys as it does to Cat Power.
The first single, “Gila” demonstrates Scally’s newly developed confidence in his guitar. Whereas on Beach House he usually took a back seat to the organ and vocals, on Devotion he crafts his own leads and takes charge. Even among all the reverb, he’s able to cut through and forge his own way.
One of Beach House’s weaknesses was the monotony that tended to grow and overcome some of the songs on its debut. However, Devotion has a greater variety of songs, making for a much better listen. Beach House gets you over that mid-album-hump by offering “Heart of Chambers.” With a rousing chorus and an epic feel throughout, it serves as an anthem for the broken-hearted hipster, and we all feel like a broken-hearted hipster sometimes.
The cover of troubadour Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last A Long Time” acts as a nice interlude before the album’s home stretch. On the last three songs of the album, Beach House experiments with new dynamics. “Astronaut” has an appropriately spacey feel and “Home Again” displays Beach House’s new penchant for interesting percussion with its reverbed-out tambourine. The aforementioned “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” is real gem in the style of ’60s psychedelic pop.
Signaled by its sepia-toned cover, Devotion sounds like an aged album by a band coming into its own. It’s the perfect companion for these short winter days and long winter nights.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars