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Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Big Beachhouse Review (part 1 of 2)

Check this shit out!
So check this shit out! (ha.) This is for Frederico. This Beach House record is fucking amazing. This record is a record, not a collection of songs, and I think it can be read chronologically, so I figure just go track by track, side by side (there are 4 sides on the vinyl I have). Also, this record is amazing.

Track 1: Wedding Bells
This song is a deep groove, but it doesn't even start with the music, just the rhythm of the shaker. When the music hits it could be anything, but the shaker still makes sense once it gets going. What I mean when I say this has a deep groove is that it stays in the pocket. The repeats sound gorgeous...when they hit that second A section and it just topples on itself like perfectly. That's one of my favorite things in pop music, when an A section repeats and it works better and different than the first time. But what's strange is this isn't a style of music you would ever expect to sit in the pocket. I mean, its not exactly funk or soul, so its crazy when it turns out to have both. The backwards guitar solo is sick, almost ridiculously so, especially after the slide solo earlier. WTF. How did they think of that. Timbrely, I'll bet you, which is so weird because the timbre is relatively flat across the whole record (same instruments, basically.) The guitar push right into the last verse is all excitement and jubilance, which contrasts with the lyrical content of the record as a whole without going overboard.

Also, one way I would describe "sitting in the pocket," especially in reference to what makes this record awesome, is that if you wanted, you could make 50 separate drum beats up and play them on top of this one, and the track would still take on the personality of the drum beat. That's an opinion, because there is no reason to say that you would ever want to put a separate drum beat on top of what's already going on, and there is plenty of good pocket playing where you couldn't do that, but I think it points towards a successful forethought involved in creating the sound. There are some technical things that I think contribute (voice leading and color tones) but the main focus is on complimenting the voice, which I think is this amazing centerpiece. It's all so moody, and ultimately this record to me is about mood.

Track 2: You Came to Me
This begins like it could be on "Moon Safari". You know, that was Air's first record?? That's the kind of DJ I would be, if I was a DJ. I would play a track off Moon Safari, and then a track off Beach House. People would be like "Did he just really do that?" and at some point it would be cheezy trying too hard like, "hey these are the same!" "yeah no shit!" but at the same time it would be like "what now? what do you do with this inescapable mood that has been created?" That's why I would be a horrible DJ and also why I want to be one so bad.

So right, again it starts with percussion. An ultra slow clave beat actually. After that and a short intro the focus is really on the voice straight through the first 2 verses, powering the slow melody for as long as it goes until the orchestra hits. Also, I think of the clave as an "open" rhythm. There is lots of harmony stuff in this record where at the end of phrases its an "open" harmony, and that helps the thing keep momentum, and sound good with a number or repeats, therefore sounding relaxed aka establishing the pocket. whew. Again, an opinion, but this is my favorite track on the record, and that is why. There is a certain continuity of sound, like where it no longer sounds like instruments to me (at points) but just this big block of moving sound.

Right, but I think the "openness" pervades the whole form of this song. I think of it as intro, A, B, and C. The openness comes in handy for this sectionality, making the transitions feel more natural. The intro is until the first words come in. The A is both of the first verses, adding instrumentation and making a little pyramid with it until the orchestral hits. the B starts with the orchestral hits, and is shorter but repeats twice. the C is everything after that, where it sounds like a music box, then with the background vocals, then with the vocal line over it. The pocket reappears at the beginning of the C section, that's really cool.

Track 3: Gila
That is one hard rolling organ. If you want to learn long melodies, learn how to play this song. This is different than say the long melody in Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" (which is also awesome) because it is so slow and unfolds over like 3 different sections. So that is cool and unique. That main guitar riff is so expressive. I'm not even sure of what, swarthiness or something, but its catchy and not in a cheap way.

For me, this is the "House of the Rising Sun" of the record. Also, this song is the "indie 'Umbrella.'" Ella. Aay. Aay. Aay. That's the pocket right there...

Another thing about this song...the color tones (6ths, 7th) in this all have perfect voice leading. Also the diminished chord resolves perfectly. This girl is classically trained, in case you didn't know. I like how the guitar on that one riff ends different ways, but I am amazed at how the organ follows that. Listen for it...that's cool, admit it. Admit it, Frederico!

Track 4: Turtle Island
This was for a long time my least favorite track on this record. It's still not my favorite. I thought it was long, slow, and boring, and if you are like me, by the time you start getting into this track you are probably really into the record.

This song is slow as fuck. Again it does the repeat A section and have it sound better and different. The "How, what, why, when" thing is almost like Animal Collective going "A, E, I, O, U," which is to say, poetic if you buy into it. I think BH does a less good job than AC if comparing these two specific examples, but at least they are going for it.

Track 5: Holy Dances
I'm not wild about this track. I could sort of take it or leave it, if you know what I mean. I think the A section with the vocals is not their strongest, and it prevents the next section from gaining momentum. This is the track where I would understand how people think of Beach House as "nice, but boring" although I doubt this is the track those people mostly hear anyways.

Track 6: All The Years
I think of this track as the emotional heart of the record. The record is called Devotion, and this is the first time the actual word is used. Up until this part you won't know if it is going to be used or not, and its used in the majestic rising line. I feel bathed in holy light through the end of the verse when I hear it.

here are the lyrics:

"I was sitting on a rock, just waiting for a key
to sleep inside the house of old serenity

So I climbed onto your altar begged,
please don't let me falter,
we'll put our oaths at stake
in a heaven that all icicles make.

All my devotion,
compelled by an ocean,
of all the years to come
of all the years to come

So we'll work until the night is quite
what once all our dreams were like;
doing all the housework,
returning all the schoolbooks, for good

Let's go on pretending that the light is neverending
we still have the summers
to be good to one another, yay hey"

At the very end, once the slide guitar comes in to me it just feels like such a unified sonic block again, like how "The Soft Bulletin" never did.

This song makes me sad the way "Where the Wild Things Are" makes me sad. I babysat last night, and saw that in the kids library so I read it to him and I was just fucking heart broken (he was fine). This song is the adult version of "Where the Wild Things Are." It tells the end to the story thats different than "...and it was still hot," ...the ending being not all bad, but certainly not all good. This song is the underlying adulthood and point of view of the record.

I love you all


  1. ethan i thought you were down on BH!! This post is awesome, I knew you'd cave.