The only time I’ve gotten any real kicks out of Beach House was at an actual beach house. It was raining outside, dark and cold and miserable, and we’d plowed through a few bottles of red, had made a fire, had smoked a joint, had wrung all possible fun from another game of Scrabble, had . . . well, the point is, we were loaded, and the shuffling iPod came up with “Gila,” from this new album Devotion, and there must’ve been a lull in conversation, ’cause suddenly, and for the first and only time, we were transfixed (mildly) by the song’s lackadaisical sashay, its shimmering ambience, this reverberating guitar figure that sounded like the opening lick to the Peter Gunn theme slowly refracted by a funhouse mirror. Then Victoria Legrand started singing, and I was like, “Ah fuck, this is fucking Beach House.” And that sucked.
Stupid band. Boring band. Boring band (in addition to Legrand, there’s multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally) that made a boring self-titled 2006 debut, a moribund mix of sallow organ chords, cloying keyboard riffs, and drum-machine beats so lifeless and monochromatic they make your average pre-programmed Casio waltz sound like Fat Boy Slim. This was intentional, of course, and a growing handful of baristas and bookstore clerks totally fell for it, dropping names like Mazzy Star, Galaxie 500, Nico, Slowdive—pretty much any band you could tack the term “narcotic” onto. It was pretty and cute and one of the most inoffensively edgy concoctions since the Appletini. Beach House’s music is slow and vaguely moody, a nice background for skimming through a magazine rack, but I’d be surprised if anyone actually fucked to it—it’s too precious. (As is well known, Mazzy Star and the Cocteau Twins are serious baby-making music.)
Anyway, so yeah, second verse, same as the first: more plodding rhythms, more homely organs, more echo, more of all things narcotic. To her credit, Legrand can still etch a melody into your head with that somnambulant skywriting that is her voice (see “Gila” or “You Came to Me”), but it’s in the manner of a nursery rhyme, her lines as maddeningly memorable as “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” The rote simplicity of these proceedings is what makes the occasional bits of drama—like the emphatic chorus to “Heart of Chambers,” which recalls Portishead’s Beth Gibbons—that much more memorable, but those moments are scarce. The shoegazer master class these guys get compared to could pack a junior-high dance’s worth of lovelorn tension into a single verse, whereas Beach House sounds either ill-equipped or, worse, too reserved to attempt such a thing. Rather than fading into you, they’re content to simply fade away.
Beach House play the Bowery Ballroom April 2, boweryballroom.com.