Beach House figured out its recipe for success real fast. Since releasing its self-titled debut in 2006, organist/vocalist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally haven’t changed the formula; they’ve only honed it. Beach House’s consistency is its most impressive quality, and the sonic shifts over the course of six albums are rarely overt. Yet, Beach House’s catalogue has a tendency to blur together, not only because of the rate at which the Baltimore duo releases music—two albums this year alone—but also because Beach House continues to color songs with the instruments its members know best—skeletal drum machines, hazy organs, slippery slide guitar figures and Legrand’s diva-noir vocals. So here are the 10 best Beach House songs that stand out, through their melodies, riffs, lyrics and sentiments, in a lineup where virtually every song is already a gem.
The guitar solo just totally cuts against the song’s gentle buzz and sweet melody. While Scally begins the opening track to sophomore album Devotion flitting around Legrand’s vocals, his solo leaps unexpected into your ear, buzzing and growling with piles of distortion. Legrand’s organs are particularly spidery and hazy on “Wedding Bell,” but when they burn off, they leave Legrand exposed to deliver that epic pronouncement: “Your wish is my command.”
When Beach House played “One Thing” on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last month, Legrand surprised fans by appearing not behind her organs, as per usual, but with a pearly-grey Stratocaster in her hands. Fuzzier and crunching than anything Beach House has done before, “One Thing,” from their second album this year, Thank Your Lucky Stars, is a taste of what Beach House would sound like if they upped the My Bloody Valentine quotient.
There’s a really nervous energy to the intertwined organs and guitar that open “Myth;” sort of the musical equivalent of really having to pee. Quickly, however, those instruments give way to pummeling toms and a rumbling bass line that emerges like the Titanic’s frozen nemesis to clobber you upside the head. Then there’s that one melody that gets stuck in your head forever: “Help me to make it,” Legrand seems to plead with both urgency and resignation.
The vocal melody is so catchy that Beach House doubles it on a piano. The tambourine on the backbeat gives “Used to Be” the momentum it needs to soar forward. Continually building up steam with additional percussion and guitar figures, it ends in a tender, gripping coda.
With the synths punching the downbeat and the drum machines swinging with a bit of funk in their step, “Walk in the Park” almost has a hip-hop feel to it. Scally’s huge tremolo guitar riff sounds like Vampire Weekend seen through beer goggles, and it strikes the perfect counterpoint to the staccato organ riffs and punchy drums.
Murky and musty, the first track from Beach House’s self-titled debut sets the stage for everything to come: Legrand’s opaque and stately vocals, a mesmerizing melody, bittersweet organs and rickety drum machines that sound like they just washed up on the beach. “Saltwater” captures a sense of being very cozy, and yet very, very cold, all in the same breath.
The lead single from this year’s first release, Depression Cherry, “Sparks” catches us off-guard with the brittle, fiery guitar in the intro before sinking into a muggy swamp of buzzing organs and echo-y drums. Maybe more than any other Beach House tune, this one really smothers listeners in its warmth.
What “Master of None” lacks in fidelity, it more than makes up with its insanely catchy melody. While this early track finds Scally exploring how to snake his way through a track, you can hear the voice that he solidifies throughout Beach House’s records.
If Beach House was a sauce, then this is the reduction—a streamlined account of everything they do best. Scally’s guitar sounds like it’s weeping, the drums keep the song flying and the keyboards sound shot through with molten silver. Is “Silver Soul” about listening to vinyl records? Doing heroin? The chorus couldn’t be any more vague, but it still manages to sound terribly, terribly sad.
Unfolding slowly and luxuriantly in all directions, “Levitation” is golden, full of subtle movements and elegant dynamics that fulfill the promise of its title. There’s something really vulnerable in the lyrics that you don’t always hear in Beach House songs. “You should see there’s a place I want to take you / When the train comes I will hold you / Cause you blow my mind,” Legrand sings. Beach House’s best songs crafts grip our heartstrings with their drama and cinematic scope, yet “Levitation” kills us with love.