A distant couple on the beach. A slow rhythm with the drone of synthesizers in the background. This is the northeast of America captured in indie films. It’s a type of snobbery, really — we can be aloof and depressed unlike anyone else. It’s not Midwestern boredom or California angst. It’s the sound of Beach House, the Baltimore duo who have released their latest album, “Devotion.” Think Lemony Snicket crossed with the uncertain reality of Michel Gondry and you’re almost there.
It’s a sound that is perfect for this time of year. When you find a youtube.com video called “Hot Depressing Garbage,” basically a collection of the detritus of civilization — broken CDs, bicycle seats, coffee cups — filmed to “Gila,” the current single off “Devotion,” you know it’s an album that you can sit around smoking to, reading books with trite titles sold in Urban Outfitters.
However, Beach House’s new album is not necessarily pretentious — it doesn’t aim for anything other than the perfection of their doleful rhythms which were concretized on their first album, “Beach House.” And it works. Not everybody has to invent a new sound with each album released.
“Gila” is a relaxing example of Beach House’s meandering, opiated sound — the guitar drops octaves and a sunset is created. “Don’t you waste your time, no-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh,” but that is exactly what the song forces one to do — lie back, daydream and follow the swirling guitars and blurry singing into a sort of abstract eternity. There’s something almost seductive about their dream rhythms.
“Heart of Chambers” is wholly indicative of the atmosphere of the album as a whole, beautiful and relaxing in its “coldest grace.” Victoria Legrand’s disinterested voice serves as a background to the blue-grey depression created by her distorted organ playing and Alex Scally’s long guitar notes.
Perhaps “depression” is not an adequate word to describe the band’s sound. There is something still innocent about their general ’geist. The song “Turtle Island” exhibits this with a lighter use of keyboard notes, and lyrics like “in the waters / tracing pictures” promises a return to Eden, perhaps only in dream places like ‘Turtle Island.’
Songs like “Wedding Bell” are lighter in tone, and there is a certain, dare one believe, joyousness in its tambourine jingling. The beat shifts in general are less depressing and there is a hint of a Hawaiian luau in some of the twanging of the guitars.
“D.A.R.L.I.N.G” is another song which attempts to break the depression, and in doing so, becomes the best thing on the album. Guitar-note snowflakes fall around Legrand’s opening “Where did she come from, your love, / stranger?” The hopeful upward shifts of rhythm are echoed when she settles into the frankly amazing “in this harbor of a room / you’ll find your echo soon.”
The suppression is reinforced in other songs, notably “Home Again,” which is more emotionally restricted; although Legrand’s voice strains against the limits of the song, it is drowned out by the heavy drumming and finally fades into the end of the album. There is an implicit sadness in her plea of “Home again / be here / be with me.”
Beach House seems to acknowledge the fundamental suppression of the soul at home. The duo needs to be free, on the beach, as it were, to let their sound fly, to let their dreams morph into reality. The definite homecoming at the end of the album signifies entrapment. So does the reinforcement of the bonds that bind the duo as represented by the opening track’s “Wedding Bell” and the themes of other lovers in “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” Perhaps the relationship is, in itself, fictional, a dream story, but the album remains a “Devotion” to freedom of imagination, open spaces and the ability to escape from our mortal constraints, if only for a moment.