It's hard to pin down a band like Beach House. The Baltimore dream pop duo is so ethereal, so gauzy yet, they're as musty as cobwebbed cake and Miss Havisham's lace bodice in Great Expectations. Even the lyrics seem irrelevant on their self-titled debut album, released by D.C.'s Carpark Records in the fall of 2006. Mostly, the album is loops of narcotized mumbling about lying down for a while and unrequited love that lasts for all time. What stands out, though, are the sounds. Creaking organ, echoing vibraphone, percussion as languid as honey, and the aloof, incorporeal moan of Victoria Legrand, niece of Oscar and Grammy-winning French composer Michel Legrand.
It is this dreamy escapism that has Beach House's Legrand and Alex Scally lapping up waves of critical praise. After just three-and-a-half years of collaboration a partnership that still feels "distinctively different" and "perfect" to Scally Beach House has garnered a mention in Rolling Stone, a best track of 2006 nod from hipster barometer Pitchfork (for dusty, lightheaded "Apple Orchard"), and a spot opening for psychy British reverb rockers the Clientele.
"I don't think it's changed at all who I feel that I am, or how I perceive myself," says Legrand, on the phone from Nashville, the band's second stop on their current tour. "It's not like all the sudden I'm this indie rock thing. Obviously, we're all in this indie rock world, but I don't feel like any of that has made me feel like an alien to myself."
Legrand might not feel alien to herself, but there is something alien about Beach House's music. Something remote, something shackled. The listless phantasmagoria of Mazzy Star, the minimal, eyelash kisses of Galaxie 500. Yo La Tengo when Georgia sings, but without the directness or the precision or the teeth-baring ferocity. Beach House's music is seductive but restrained. Buttons up to the chin, but muddy from last night under the boardwalk. It's music for stripping, for altering states and throwing yourself at a body that is both unknown, and entirely too familiar.
"It's all about sex. It's in everything. Even our music, somehow," says Scally, somewhere in between honesty and ridicule. "We're just aiming to make music we like. We're not like, 'Let's make this a sexy one!' We'd be, like, weird, cheesy hornballs if we were doing that."
Yet, there's an undeniable sensuality to Beach House. Legrand says men have confessed their love to her, their love for the disembodied lullaby, experienced only through their stereos, their headphones. "Maybe men think that the world in the music is just some sort of magical, naked world," she explains. But the undressed alchemy is limited to the studio and to the stage, Legrand emphasized. She and Scally are neither lovers nor siblings, as is often assumed of boy-girl rock duos (think: the Fiery Furnaces, Mates of State or more ambiguously the White Stripes).
"I'm sure that people will always ask us if we're brother and sister, or dating, even if we say we're not," Legrand says. "But we're not. That's just part of creating a level of mystique. People want to have a story behind the music."
And what are the stories behind the music?
"It's a mystery. That's one thing I'll never tell anyone," says Legrand, who, at this point, writes the lyrics to all of Beach House's songs, then brings them to Scally to flesh out the melodies with her. Both Scally and Legrand swear an affinity for Motown, '50s girl bands, '60s French pop and Neil Young, but these snappy influences seem hidden in Beach House's more murky shadows. However, the next album, slated to be recorded this August, will reflect the zing of the duo's shared loves, Scally tentatively promised.
"Everything we've written for the second album so far seems a lot less ethereal, and more intense, for sure," he says. "Something is happening, but I'm not yet sure what it is."
Though Beach House's stories remain veiled and their influences as unexpected and as yet unexpressed their aesthetic and their sounds might, in fact, stem from the landscape from which they arose. Baltimore, with its seaports and tremors of crime, feels analogous to Detroit, agreed Legrand and Scally. Cousin cities. Postindustrial, and in distress. Haunted and haunting.
"I've come to love the way that feels, almost the absence of total yuppie-dom everywhere," Scally says. "I feel there are fewer things to get in the way of being engaged with your surroundings, and being inspired, and being happy."
Beach House performs with the Clientele at 8 p.m., Sunday, June 3, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; all ages; $10.
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