Beach House : 7

It took me a bit before I truly could appreciate the magic of Beach House’s music. The Baltimore band’s appeal eluded me their first couple records. What I’d heard off of Teen Dream and then Bloom was nice in a passerby sort of way, but I didn’t know what all the accolades were about. What I heard was sort of a slow motion version of Cocteau Twins, but maybe a little sadder.

Then on a whim I bought Devotion at my local record store and things  began to make sense. It was a slow motion melancholy hidden under programmed drums and droning keys. Victoria Legrand’s vocals were a little raspy, but contained in them a wisdom of the soul beyond her years. The more you listened the more you felt you were hearing someone’s true essence being relayed through song. Alex Scally built these musical mazes for Legrand to get lost in and ruminate on life and the sadness that sometimes comes along with it.

What I’ve eventually discovered is that Beach House’s music is something that comes across simple at first, but reveals many more depths and layers with repeated listens. Teen Dream and Bloom proved to be little masterpieces, but for my ears Depression Cherry is one of their best. It dials down from their previous records and settles into a slow motion melancholy that comes to a beautiful and crushing finale with “Days of Candy”.

So as not to fall into a rut of sorts, Scally and Legrand went into their new album 7 with louder ambitions. They brought in producer Sonic Boom(aka Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember) to add some weight to the band’s bottom end. The result is a harder Beach House, but one that still retains the dream quality of their sound that they established over ten years ago with their debut. As with each of their previous records, every spin of 7 reveals a deeper beauty and a more complex emotional weight than before.

The first thing you notice with Beach House’s excellent new LP is it’s louder. They’ve taken their sleepy sound and have added a metallic sheen, a byproduct of Sonic Boom’s deft sonic touches. Album opener “Dark Spring” jumps from the speakers like My Bloody Valentine, but smoother and with less blunt force. I never thought Beach House needed to be louder and more gruff in their delivery, but “Dark Spring” makes me second guess that. There’s a vitality here that wasn’t there before. Those songs from the ether have been woken into a fever dream. “Pay No Mind” lulls back into Legrand and Scally’s usual dreamy state, but with more emphasis on the low end. “Lemon Glow” pops and flows like some lost 80s radio hit; a song you know you know but you’re not sure why. This is the proto-Beach House sound. It’s familiar and inviting, but with a noisier vibe. It’s Beach House, but with an industrial lean.

Beach House, for my money, never have to veer from the sonic world they’ve created. It’s a familiar place that I want to go to because I know what to expect and that I understand it’s place in my head. It’s nostalgic, but for something that never existed. Except for in the heads and hearts of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Lucky for me it’s an imagined world that I often long to be in. “L’inconnue” is one such imagined world. It opens like the petals of some exotic flower, inviting you in to exist within its colors and aromas. Legrand sings palates of hues; blues, pinks, whites, and deep reds. The simplicity of the beat lulls you into a place of near transcendence.

Beach House are transcendent.

Elsewhere, “Drunk in LA” captures some of that Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil magic. This is a near perfect track thanks to a mournful mood with an unexpected uplift hidden just under the surface. “Lose Your Smile” lives within the past and present. It has the sound of an old 60s European pop track, a Cowboy Junkies b-side, and something very current and vital. “Girl of the Year” is awash in dense, lovely keys. It’s regal sound and Legrand nearly whispering “You slide out on Sunset, Head west on Marest” takes you from your surroundings and drops you into her world. “Last Ride” spans over 7 minutes and ends the album quietly, in contrast to it’s noisier beginnings. It ends in a wall of subtle guitar squall that disappears into the ether.

Sonic Boom succeeds in expanding Beach House’s carefully-curated musical world without shaking things up too much. His touch is felt in the denser low end and noisier aspects of some of these songs, but this is still very much a Beach House album. It nods to Phil Spector-like sonics, 4AD melancholy, and an otherworldly feel that Beach House have perfected. 7 is an absolute stunning record of dark beauty and melancholy mood, and one of their best albums yet.

8.7 out of 10

I bet your 7″ lathe cut can’t do this….

I thought I’d seen everything. From UFOs landing in Midwest cornfields and their extraterrestrial pilots revealing to me the meaning of existence thru an old Lite Brite, to talking coyotes that revealed to me the meaning of existence thru an old Milton Bradley Simon game, to a monkey that could make Toaster Strudels for a man born without arms, legs, and a mouth to eat the Toaster Strudels with. It seemed that nothing in this universe could surprise me at this point in the game. How could it, with me already realizing that we’re all here as merely a collective sigh baking on this rock and waiting for the Planctorian Death Lords from Sigma Nigh-8 to come and turn us all into slave monkeys, our only purpose of existence to toast their damn Toaster Strudels because they have no arms or legs???

Turns out life just surprised me(a little, anyways.)

A very small record label called Polytechnic Youth came into my world. Polytechnic Youth is located somewhere in the far reaches of the universe where they make these magical 7″ lathe cuts. Super small batches of different artists each time. Side A and Side B, boom, they are gifted to the world and then they’re off to the next. Super limited, super rare, but super incredible art. Here’s the simple description on their website:

library sounds | electronic experiments in kosmische | primitive electronics as a soundtrack to physical education | a micro label for vinyl heads

The reason I came across this label is Timothy Fife. Timothy Fife of synth duo Victims and of his own solo work, in-particular this year’s excellent Black Carbon. Fife is the real deal when it comes to electronic composition. He’s deep into Giallo scores, Italian directors, and horror cinema in general. His work that I’m familiar with is of the heady and heavy synth variety. Fife is heavy into the Berlin-School Movement, Komische, Krautrock, and sites Klaus Schulze as a big influence. You can hear it in his work, for sure. But he adds elements of ambient music, darker incidental work, and this East Coast sensibility that can only come from staring out into the endless Atlantic and hearing those icy waves crash against the shore. It’s quite beautiful.

A few weeks ago Timothy Fife released a 7″ lathe cut with Polytechnic Youth. Side A is “Simulacra” with the B side being “All Tomorrow’s Remembered”. These are exquisite synth compositions. Bubbly, dream-like, and take you to another place when you’re in the middle of them.

“Simulacra” pulls you in with arpeggiated notes and whispers of new age ambient in the background. It’s Komische of the highest order. “All Tomorrows Remembered” puts me in mind of Edgar Froese, Rudiger Lorenz, and touches of JD Emmanuel, but all rebuilt and redefined by Fife’s style.

The unique thing about this release is that it plays from the inside out. You drop the needle right at the runout point of the 7″ and it rides those grooves backwards. I was skeptical at first. “How will this work?” I said. “Do I need to light candles and repeat dark incantations?” I said. “I think your grilled cheese is burning” my wife said. It was. Anyways, I followed the instructions included with the 45 and sure enough the needle grabbed the groove. And also, as stated in the instructions, I turned the volume UP!

Beautiful.

As I said, these releases are super limited and are gone before you know it. Timothy Fife’s sold out in record time. I think you can locate one or two on Discogs for like $1,000,000 or something. If you’ve got the cash I’d go for it. It’s worth it, man. Brilliant tracks, artwork, and it plays from the inside out.

Who needs the meaning of life when you’ve got records like this? If you listen hard enough, you can find that meaning you’re looking for in the grooves.