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Beach House: It is happening again

The indie duo from Baltimore take on their biggest year since the start of their decade-long career.

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“And then it’s dark again, just like a spark.”

This is the main refrain on “Sparks,” the first single off of Beach House’s “Depression Cherry.” The duo released their fifth EP in two parts this past summer, receiving generally favorable reviews and a chorus of praise from fans after their three-year hiatus.

Yet, this return to the spotlight left the duo some unfinished business.

“Thank Your Lucky Stars,” released in October under little to no pretense. This sixth EP surprised fans and received a mixed response from fans and critics alike, raising the question: “How much Beach House is too much Beach House?” Despite the shaky reaction and its entering the charts 30 places lower than “Depression Cherry,” Beach House has been on a non-stop roll since.

A spark that has yet to go dark again.

The Baltimore duo formed back in 2004, though their debut album was not released until late 2006. Victoria Legrand (vocalist and keyboard) lived a nearly nomadic life, traveling with her parents from France, to Philadelphia, to Pennsylvania and, finally, to Maryland. Legrand didn’t meet her musical counterpart and future bandmate until after her graduation from Vassar College. Alex Scally (guitar and keyboard) is a Baltimore native and a graduate of Oberlin College. Scally has always considered himself a musical person. Was it love at first sight when the duo met? No, but it was the beginning of a collaboration that exists solely on it’s own, dreamy frequency.

Their sound, in a word, is hazy — difficult to describe and easy to get lost in. A Beach House song can go from sounding like a warm blanket wrapped around your shoulders to a blistering wind, whistling past your ears with a cool sting. It’s a blend of many elements that contribute to this other-worldly, atmospheric sound. From Scally’s reverberating guitar, which is set in an E flat tuning, to Legrand’s low-register singing voice, Beach House has established a unique sound standard.

At live performances, Legrand almost always has one hand pressing a long chord on her keyboard as she sings her low, cryptic lyrics. Scally, though less mysterious, is still shrouded in long hair and shadow as he plays his guitar. Whether it’s their seemingly aloof presence or unique sound, even the members of Beach House struggle to explain themselves in words.

“We never, ever try to intellectualize things; we don’t talk too much about who we are, or what things mean. We just sort of do things,” Scally said in an interview. “A lot of times, in interviews, nothing really seems to make sense. Instead of knowing the answers to questions, it’s like you’re searching for what an answer might be. For us, Beach House is the music we come up with when we get together. We don’t think about it more than that.”

This intangible creativity showcases itself in”Levitation,” the opening track of “Depression Cherry.” Legrand, over a softly rising synth, brings the song from a slow burn to a steady fire. As she croons, “There’s a place I want to take you,” the listener is quasi-initiated into an exclusive club, a Beach House world where sounds just carry and words float in thin air.

Not all songs are ambiguous in such an embraceable way. One of the qualms listeners have with “Thank Your Lucky Stars” is its lack of warmth. On tracks such as “Rough Song” and “Majorette,” the artists return to a discordant, slightly off-sounding undercurrent reminiscent of older work off their second album, “Devotion.” Some question whether or not this is the sound of a band regressing.

What exactly is the duo’s claim to fame now?

The release of “Depression Cherry,” or “Thank Your Lucky Stars” only a few months later? The naming of Aziz Ansari’s acclaimed Netflix comedy series after their track “Master of None”? A world tour with many sold out shows?

This is a band that doesn’t strive for your traditional success. Beach House is about far more than releasing an album to get their songs, and their message, out to anyone who is willing to listen.

“I feel fatigued by the concept that no art is safe from commercialism,” Scally said in an interview with Pitchfork. “Can’t I just experience something? I don’t want it to be sold to me, I don’t want it to be branded, I don’t want to wonder, ‘Is this really this person, or did they just get the tip that they should jump on a trend?’ The thing that I crave is authenticity.”

For long-term followers, Beach House has solidified themselves as a trustworthy band that would never “sell out,” but it goes beyond that. While their sound has varied in subtle ways throughout their career — you wouldn’t hear a song like “Apple Orchard” on “Bloom,” and you wouldn’t hear a song like “Lazuli” on “Beach House” — it has never changed to the point of betrayal. Legrand and Scally understand who they are: not a band that brings you with them on a personal journey, but functions more as a setting, a place to exist at a point in time.

Email Jordan Allen at [email protected].

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Beach House: It is happening again