Review: Beach House, B-Sides and Rarities

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Beach House band

At Coachella 2013, standing with my wife, as the sun set over the Indio Hills and the illuminated, iconic ferris wheel, Beach House saturated the already warm air with droning keys and a triumphant set of crowd-pleasers. Sunset set time is coveted at Coachella, and this was a perfect choice. A woman appeared next to us aggressively told my wife how gorgeous she was, and talked very loudly about Lollapalooza (we are from Chicago) and then put her arms around us and repeatedly screamed – “BEAAAAAAACH HOUSE, BEEEEEEEACH HOOOOOOOUSE, ALL THE BEAAAAACHES IN THE HOUSE” for a good sixty seconds before continuing on for a night I doubt she remembers. Beach House creates fandom completely disproportionate to the lack of aggressiveness in their music.

Victoria Legrand — who I would love to have record my voicemail btw — and Alex Scally are coming in hot off a string of massive critical successes as well as a continually growing fanbase with this collection of odds and ends from their rich discography. Teen Dream was the first perfect record of this decade and was received accordingly. Those prolific sessions bring us several tracks, the first of which is "Baby", drum conscious and prescient of the live show that would blow up around the globe. Their sound perfected during these 2009-2010, not much change has been needed or given, this record gives us the fan service of the rare, developmental moments between their first two and their latter four records.

A perfect example is "Play the Game" which was recorded in 2008 at the same studio where Devotion was made recorded. The track carries all the touchstones of Devotion, mixing slow shakers, and an uncommonly quick melody from Victoria, but the unspoken longing that developed strongly on Teen Dream. Originally released on an AIDS compilation for charity and the band has committed to continue to donate the money from this track to that cause. It’s a move that’s as classy as the song. From that same time window, we get “White Moon” and “The Arrangement” originally quickly recorded for an iTunes live session, but fully mixed and mastered here, they easily take their place in the Beach House canon. Both could have been solid tracks on Teen Dream which show how much A-level material they were working with during those recording sessions.

“The Arrangement” is a song about order, and sounds more like Beach House from the 00’s than Beach House from the 10’s, it’s a solid jaunt, with a playful melody, but it lacks the drone characteristic of much of their later work, it wouldn’t have fit on Teen Dream and this compilation is a perfect resting place. Still another track from this time, is “I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun” released as an unmastered thank you to fans after the whirlwind 2010 tour cycle. Also, I don’t believe Victoria here, her music is perfect for the winter sun ☺. The song takes some moody slide guitars and pairs it with bass and drum machines. It never quite goes anywhere, feeling more like a few moments caught on camera than a fully developed track which is why it feels better here than it originally did seven years ago. Its abrupt ending leads well into the slowed down version of “10 Mile Stereo” a stand out from Teen Dream.

The follow up, Bloom, was a step further inside the dream. From those sessions we get “Equal Mind” which was cut at the last second for having the same tempo as “Other People”. I can see why between the two of them they chose “Other People” it is my pick for number one Beach House song of all time, but “Equal Mind” could have been included instead of the lengthy end and only misstep on the record which is the slightly painful repeating note section on “Irene”. Also from 2012 is “Saturn Song” originally released on a record from various artists recording using “space sounds”, that compilation was a bit of a confusing bust, working much more conceptually than actually since the majority of the space sounds were buried in the mix and the track fits much better here.

For the two follow-ups to Bloom, Beach House recorded a ton of songs that ended up naturally falling into two piles. Depression Cherry, released first of the two in 2015, was more dreamy, more poppy, more loud, a follow up to their most ceiling reaching tracks. The other 2015 record, surprise released promptly after Depression Cherry was Thank Your Lucky Stars, an equally fantastic, albeit slower and simpler record. It’s a bit more workmanlike and drum focused, but since all their discography feels like its from the same river of calm, dreaminess, the difference seem a tad superfluous. From these sessions we get “Baseball Diamond” – a drifting, pensive rumination that sounds zero percent like baseball, unless it is the soundtrack for The Sandlot in slow motion, overdubbed by whispering mothers. And the first and best track on the compilation – “Chariot” which has the best chorus here and easily could have opened Thank Your Lucky Stars.

“Chariot” is a microcosm of what we all love about this band. Church organ, meets simple drum machine, meets crescendoing guitar and patient drum work. Everything caked in the icing of stoicism with a winking wit. Then Victoria’s voice vacations on top of the mix, like a layer of aloe on top of your emotional burns. Her voice is so priceless on each record it makes me forget that I want the Cocteau Twins to reunite. Not say she has a better voice per se than Elizabeth Fraser, but is the logical follow up to her angelic singing.

“Rain in Numbers” is the oldest song here and it sounds like it, recorded in 2005. If it sounds overly familiar, that’s because it is the secret track on their self-titled debut. But this is a better resting place for the track, the slightly atonal piano giving dissonance to its original record but giving the much needed “demo” vibe to this b-sides collection. Another track pulls the same trick, it’s the final one here, as well as the final and hidden track on Bloom. “Wherever You Go” follows suit and feels more at home here than it did on its original record. For a band that creates as rabid of fans as Beach House, this b-sides collection is a welcome addition to one of the best independent catalogs this decade.

They might be clearing the deck before a major label deal, or a shift in sound, or a next step in the band, but I have yet to hear a weak Beach House song, here’s to hoping for seven more. B