4. Beach House – Devotion
How important is style to music? I don’t mean style in the sense of the ‘skinny jeans and tight t-shirts’ that the bouncers of certain London “indie-rock” club nights require. I mean the layers, the arrangements, the how of the music. Its realisation. The fact that there is a piano playing that melody instead of a flute. The fact that that word is slurred, rather than sounded properly.
It’s probably a society-wide assumption that style is something that goes on top of music, especially in the essentially post-punk landscape of indie music. I first came across that idea reading about poetry and the debates various crusty Oxbridge types had about the concrete universals and intrinsic beauty or values, below rhyme and rhythm, below the mere words.
I thought it was missing the point then, and I think it’s missing the point now, in the context of music. There’s no such thing as style in that sense. It’s not a paint that you put over some song that you’ve plucked from the ether, or your arse, depending on how flighty your aspirations. The song is its style, nothing more.
And it’s from this theoretical standpoint (very sorry about all that, casual observer) that I oppose the criticism that Beach House’s songs are boring, samey plods with an interminably sickly layer of style-paint coating them. These songs are made up of their lush organ sounds, reverb-soaked guitar lines and misted spider-web shakers. In the very same way that Times New Viking aren’t a noise band with pop songs underneath, but a band with great noisy pop songs, Beach House aren’t playing regular songs and then making them pristine and pretty with layers. It’s a house, if you’ll excuse the pun, built from the ground up. An impressionist faces a blank canvas and ends up with a masterpiece. He doesn’t just colour in between the lines.
It’s another world. There’s a truth somewhere in those low organ chords that seem like they came from nowhere and have nowhere to go. Victoria Legrand’s voice, reminiscent of Nico, gives her romantic evocations a sense of nobility that few peers manage. The album feels like a dream, a Xanadu trip, even though it’s largely about domestic love. There’s also something to be said for its timelessness. It could pass as a 60s album if it tried, but it doesn’t sound derivative or retro. That’s a surefire sign, I think, that it will last.