In its recent music issue, Entertainment Weekly declared Baltimore-based dream pop duo Beach House to be one of the 30 greatest bands working today. Though the duo was number 30, the list also included the legendary Bruce Springsteen and pop sensation Adele.
"I saw that thing, and it kinda freaked me out," admits singer-keyboardist Victoria Legrand, on the phone from her home.
Indeed, as Bloom's release date approaches and Beach House's tour begins, the pressure is on. And in Miami, the 2500-seat Fillmore Miami Beach awaits.
It is a beautiful venue with its balconies and chandeliers. It is steeped in history, having famously served as a stage for Jackie Gleason and so many other television legends. But it can also be unforgiving.
A month after Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally's last local show, opening for Vampire Weekend at the Fillmore in 2010, their Sub Pop labelmates Wolf Parade took the stage as headliners. And that band was lucky if there were 250 people at the theater that night.
Several months later, Iron and Wine also played the Fillmore. And looking out into the depths, frontman Sam Beam, a well-known Miami native before he signed to Sub Pop, noticed that the back part of the theater's main floor (not to mention the entire balcony) had been hidden behind heavy velvet drapes. He jokingly referred to them as the "you suck" curtains.
Nevertheless, Beach House's Legrand says the band made a conscious choice, selecting this difficult-to-fill SoBe venue for atmospheric reasons. "It's about a certain level of [live] production that we want to work on," she explains. "[The Fillmore just] seemed like the one that was the most appropriate for the show we want to put on."
Of course, though, packing the seats could be a challenge. "It's a pretty big venue," Legrand agrees. "I'm not expecting anything. I generally try not to have any expectations."
When asked about Beach House's envisioned "level of [live] production," Legrand, who actually helps Scally design and build the stage sets, refuses to provide details. She just prefers to keep it a surprise. "I don't want to jinx anything," she laughs. "But we are building it right now. It will be something! You'll see. I don't want to give anything away."
For their last tour, she and Scally lugged around giant pyramids that contained an ever-varying light source that would smoothly shift and pulsate through a dizzying spectrum of colors. Behind them, a curtain of light bulbs flickered, streamed and shifted, depending on the songs. It offered a wonderful visual counterpoint to Beach House's dreamy pop.
"We definitely want to create a world for people when they come to see us, whether it's a small venue or a large venue," Legrand says. "I think that, with our music, it doesn't feel right to just get up on stage and play it and not try to make it something really magical."
And it's certainly true that Beach House's music is dense and massive and magical. The melodies slice through a churning swirl of humming, harmonious chords, as if rising from the depths of the ocean. Scally plays guitar lines that ring and echo with the ghosts of psychedelic rock and early Goth rock. Legrand contributes lush layers of organ while singing abstract lyrics in a patient, languorous voice reminiscent of Nico. And the beats vary from canned clicks to the soft patter of a traditional drum set.
But do not mistake Beach House for another member of the chillwave generation. This duo was buzzing long before music critics found a label for the sleepy dance music of Neon Indian or Washed Out. "That's something that happened way after we'd become a band," Legrand insists. "I don't respond to that particular title for music. I think genres in general are sort of silly.
"I definitely don't think it makes any sense with our music. Because, for me, there's a lot of force: it's thick, it's luscious, it's heavy. I don't feel chill when I'm making it at all," she adds with a laugh.
But whether or not Beach House's sound belongs to any particular trendy subgenre, there's no denying that Legrand and Scally's musical project has been surging in popularity ever since the release of their 2006 self-titled debut on Washington D.C.-based Carpark Records. And this new, semi-secret album should only stoke their steadily growing fanbase and spur ever-louder praise from the press.
Several songs on Bloom are some of Beach House's catchiest work ever. Critics and longtime fans alike have embraced its two lead tracks, "Myth" and "Lazuli." And another notable highlight is "The Hours," a song that soars on the interplay between Legrand's pulsing organ chords and Scully's patient, minimal slide guitar.
"That song to me is almost a saga," Legrand says. "It has a really wild, imaginative force to it. I mean, they all do. But I really feel it takes you someplace, and the end has always given me shivers."
The album concludes with the six-and-half-minute "Irene," an ecstatic track full of tremolo guitar, droning synths, and smoldering grooves that build toward an entrancing finale. "That's a very special moment for us," Legrand confides. "We had it written and everything. But it was more intense than we had ever really intended. It's something that's never happened on an album before ... It was just very special for Daniel, our drummer, and Alex and me, playing together all at once. That's a good example of magic in the recording studio."
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If Legrand has any trepidation about taking the stage at the massive Fillmore ahead of her album's official release, she does not show it. "I'm very excited to be down there. And I don't know what the walk-up versus online ticketing is like," she laughs. "But maybe we'll just be playing to you. And it will be awesome."
-- Hans Morgenstern
Beach House with Zomes. Tuesday, May 8. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $20 plus fees via livenation.com. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.