In pop music, it's seldom that the age-old adage "less is more" actually earns its keep. But Baltimore's Beach House practically revel in restraint. The band's name might have you thinking its music is stuffed with Beach Boys-style multi-part harmonies or spiked with staccato surf guitar. In fact, the album's nine sullen sketches undeniably conjure a coastal ambience. But deflate the beach ball and leave the sunscreen at home because it's definitely not that kind of day by the sea. Think skies so gray they're monochrome. Think chilling wind sweeping sand into your eyes. In other words, this soothingly minimal music is as fuzzy edged as those moments before waking life lapses into sleep.
Comprised of singer and organist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, these performances may float by with all the dreamy weightlessness of gently lapping waves. But for all the wistful nostalgia and amniotic atmosphere, there's darkness lurking in these songs, too. Even on the album's sweetest track, opener "Saltwater," gloom laces Legrand's declaration to a lover: "You couldn't lose me if you tried." Instead of passion or delight, Legrand's icy Nico impersonation projects a sleepy matter of factness. And the music does very little to nudge this love song out of the shadows. Organs sputter and drone like they've been collecting dust in some lightless attic room, while the drum machine resembles gusts of ocean spray more than snare cracks.
But none of that means Beach House is a joyless listen. Instead, these deeply transporting songs score gray days and listless, late-night introspection with exquisite understatement. The band even retained mistakes that would typically be removed in post-production. So when a chain rattles, a note's blown, or Legrand prefaces an intro with an exasperated four-count, it charges the music with an endearingly human quality and thaws these dirges a few degrees. Certainly life isn't free of its blemishes, so it's refreshing to hear music that flaunts its simplicity and intimate scale with such confidence. And sometimes that's just what you need—a plainly beautiful soundtrack for life's underwhelming moments.