Editor’s Note: Shining a light on the more prominent artists of the passing decade; we’ll be taking a look at the artists who made a monumental impact on the 2010s and landed several albums in our 200 Best Albums Of The 2010s list in a series of pieces through the end of 2019. Today we’re taking a look at one of the more pliable artists in the series, Beach House. Morgan Enos takes a look at their entire run of records over the decade, three of which landed on our Best 200!
Mirrors and Smoke and Ballet Shoes: Beach House in the 2010s
Beach House refuses to seize your attention with parlor tricks; they’re in it for the long game. “We’re late bloomers,” frontwoman Victoria Legrand told The Fader in 2018 while promoting their album 7. “The Flaming Lips, how many records do they have? Wasn’t R.E.M.‘s eighth or ninth record the one? Not that I’m comparing ourselves to those bands, but sometimes it takes a long time to… find deep layers of creativity.”
Much like those lifer bands, Beach House develops slowly and sometimes not at all, even locking in one groove for albums on end. On 2010’s Teen Dream, Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally suddenly evolved from a bedroom aesthetic and made full-blooded dream pop like Mazzy Star or Fleetwood Mac. But beyond that leap, each new Beach House record is like turning a prism and reflecting light anew; if you need constant innovation from an artist, consider looking elsewhere.
Beach House thrives in the space where words fail and emotion rules; the chorus to their best song goes “It is happening again.” (Whatever you’re going through, fill in the blanks.) When asked how they do what they do, the band, fittingly, stays vague. Speaking to The Fader, Scally described a “dual energy field that exists between joy and sorrow,” and in a 2018 interview with Stereogum, Legrand called some 7 songs “mirrors and smoke and ballet shoes” — as good a summation of her band as any.
With the 2010s coming to a close, we’re revisiting Beach House’s run of albums this decade, from Teen Dream to 7.
Beach House’s first album for Sub Pop is hot-blooded and fully formed, a mild-mannered indie band tapping into a deep vein of feeling. On Teen Dream, they dialed back the reverb and homed in on their strongest components: Scally’s swooping slide guitar and Legrand’s impassioned wail. These two sounds together can lay you flat; Teen Dream’s highlights, like “Silver Soul,” “Walk in the Park” and “10 Mile Stereo,” are all light and shadow, sunbeams flaring through heavy cloudbanks.
“As you get older, you realize that nothing lasts forever,” Legrand told The Guardian in 2012 about their fourth album, Bloom. “It’s not depressing, but it does make moments more intense.” Through that lens, Bloom doesn’t expand on Teen Dream, but it explores its shadow; on “Myth,” “New Year” and “On the Sea,” the guitars lean more Cocteau Twins and the vocals flirt with despondency. “It’s many colors, just a little [darker] than before,” Legrand said in the same interview, which explains “Other People,” a sing-along pop song that’s brighter than anything on Teen Dream.
Instead of going more ambitious on Depression Cherry, the band dug deeper into their original formula and found more treasures. “We’re deep in the dirt now [after 10 years],” Scally told Fact Magazine in 2015. “Something can be repeated but it’s never the same,” Legrand said in the same interview. But because Depression Cherry doesn’t veer into new territory, it ends up being one of the band’s most straightforward and easiest-to-like albums: “Space Song,” “10:37” and “PPP” are pretty, unadorned ballads that stand among their best.
Almost to provoke the “they never change!” naysayers, Beach House released Thank Your Lucky Stars only two months after Depression Cherry — and if you can identify any wild leaps between the two, I’d wager you’re reaching. Where Legrand described Cherry as about “love, pain, getting older, dealing with loss, letting go,” Stars feels a touch more lighthearted, particularly on “All Your Yeahs,” “One Thing” and “Rough Song.” Then again, we’re talking a Beach House album — it is what you bring to it.
After settling into an immutable approach for pretty much everything post-Teen Dream, Beach House pulled a surprising maneuver with their seventh album, 7. They parted ways with their longtime producer Chris Coady and teamed up with Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember of Spacemen 3, who sharpened and modernized their sound at a point where it could use it. On “Dark Spring,” “Drunk in LA” and “Girl of the Year,” the band dive fully-fledged studio production to make their dismal vision more immersive than ever.
With more sounds, more shades, more everything, Beach House sound more confident and committal than ever. They may have used nonspecificity to plumb emotional depths in the past, but 7 shows they can work their magic without the mirrors and smoke.