Baltimore duo spins soft vocals, electrified keyboards and mechanical percussion into pearlized fogs of melancholy pop.
Half hidden, Beach House's songs emerge from a dense, nebulous drift of reverbed sound, sad in the way that happy memories can be sad, simply because you can't quite get a grip on them. Partners Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally build layered, narcotic dreamscapes out of washes of voice, percussion, guitar, and keyboard, always more going on in a track than you hear at first. Album opener "Saltwater" emerges softly from a swirl of organs, its mechanical pulse all-Casio derived cymbal and snare. (The band's MySpace says they don't use drum machines, but almost all the percussion sounds programmed to me.) Legrand's voice floats disengaged over the top, cool and impressionistic as she mouths words like "Love you all the time / You couldn't lose me if you tried." "Tokyo Witch" is just as good, shaken sleigh bells keeping time as Legrand follows a snake-y organ melody through hallucinatory landscapes of mahjongg parlors. "Apple Orchard" leans further into country territory, its pedal steel guitar freeform and organic over geometric figures of keyboard. "Auburn and Ivory", with its waltz time keyboards and metronomic percussion, is a minor-key lament whose emotive power builds as the piece progresses. Scally's voice turns interestingly snarly at times, disturbing the limpid pool of sound, and she sounds like a whole other person, more passionate, more engaged, more Orbison-ish and louder in the chorus of "I'll wait for you / I'll wait for us." It is, perhaps, the best five seconds on the album. Yet don't write off late-disc triumphs like "House on the Hill", its clanking, nautical percussion subsiding under radiant washes of keyboard sound and rapid-fire guitar-picked runs, and Legrand self-harmonizing in heady sweetness. One complaint, though: when the main part of the album is so exceptionally well-shaped and unitary, why tack on an unrelated "hidden track" after "Heart and Lungs"? It's like another chapter after a page clearly marked "the end."