Thursday, December 27, 2012
Beach House: Devotion (2008)
Would you have a look at that pleasant scene playing out on the cover of yer dreampop record here? They seem like a nice couple of kids, yeah? They really are, I think, and what's more -- they listen to a lot of the same shit you did when you were that age. (They're actually older than me, but who's counting?) Yeah, Cocteau Twins and Low and all that stuff. As you know, with Bloom I became a full-on Beach House convert in a big way; it sonics and hooks soared with me in every manner that the predecessor, Teen Dream, had left me cold. We won't be devoting much time to another Teen Dream revisit anytime soon -- try as I might, it falls on my ear pleasantly and disappears and that's all I can say for it.
Devotion, which has been kicking around for a while but which I focused on after the Bloom fixation took hold, falls someplace between the two other Beach House albums I've spent time with. One thing it's easy to sense is specifically why the transformation after the duo's Sub Pop signing seemed so impressive -- this is comparatively raw and simple music, typically spinning its magic out of not much more than drum machine and organ and reverb and more reverb and, of course, Victoria LeGrand's tirelessly woozy vocals, which make a bigger impression here in and of themselves that at any point since. The relative clarity of the music itself doesn't present any revelations in songwriting terms -- but for me, this just spells a good band that took a while to find its voice. What's here is nevertheless interesting and worthwhile, even if it does kind of float away like some shoreline breeze. Maybe that's the idea.
The quintessential Devotion cut is the second, "You Came to Me," which is the sort of track for which AllMusic invented those "tones" listings it has -- by turns, this is fluid, focused, sweet, unfettered, lilting, relaxed, catchy, and, well, long. One reason I found Bloom such an immersive experience was that the length and detail of its songs was, for me, hypnotic; there's less variance here and the lushness is missing, but I do get a sense of what LeGrand and restless tape-deck twiddler Alex Scally were getting at -- "Holy Dances" introduces plenty of the trickiness that'd show up later, and it's one of the livelier tunes here, but the slightly canny, flat sound does it in. This band needs spaciousness the same way Merrill Garbus needed an actual recording studio. They do stomp a little, and it's easy to understand why Teen Dream wrought the inclination to spend much more money on sonics, why the band reported that that album's demos sounded like this one's finals. Nevertheless, there's charm in the offhandedness that provides a wholly different effect than what's now associated with Beach House -- something more fitting of their name, even! Of course, pay too much mind to all this and by "Gila," the thing starts to plod. "Turtle Island" is the occasion for yet further plodding. It sounds nice though! But they could sue Tennis for essentially co-opting this album as the basis of their entire career.
It can't be a coincidence that this and Teen Dream both give me an inclination to fall into a painless and gently adventurous slumber; that is not by any means a negative criticism, just an observation. I snap into total consciousness thrice: first on "All the Years," because it's an excellent song and points the way ahead for LeGrand's haziness, Scally's druggy meanderings; second, hey look they covered Daniel Johnston, and that tune's way around a hook renders it their most immediate pre-Bloom moment outside of the inexhaustible "Norway"; and dig that "Imagine" homage on "Astronaut"!
It's another Beatle whose image keeps popping around my head when Devotion's playing. Or even when I'm looking at that adorable cover image -- I feel like I'm hearing one of those early off-the-cuff Macca things when the poor guy was trying so desperately hard not to be humorless and provided us with telling glimpses of his kinda-surprisingly-mature (seemingly) domesticated lifestyle. It's not just because Devotion starts with the namby-pamby sweetness of "Wedding Bell," a chilled lounge slow-dance just this side of Ram by way of the Cure. It's more a feeling that instead of complaining, I need to let these two invite me in and feed me and light the candles and just be nice to them, they're good nice people -- the kind of good nice people with just that shade of something sinister in their eyes that quietly implies they have something like Bloom up their sleeves.