On Beach House‘s eponymous debut, Baltimore duo Victoria Legrand and Alan Scally unleashed an unholy marriage of My Bloody Valentine’s swirling disintegration and Laura Canyon-like vocals. It was the sound of Joni Mitchell laden with Prozac fronting Slowdive, a beautiful, blissed out escape from pedestrian everyday living. They appeared lost inside their own world, disconnected, oblivious and free.
On Devotion, Beach House have stripped away the layers of ‘nu-gaze’ gauze to allow the songs to blossom in the light. The sound is richer, fuller; Legrand’s voice is higher in the mix. Unfortunately, by removing elements of the sonic debris from the songs, they have mislaid some of the mystery that made their debut such a beguiling listen. The limitations of both Legrand’s vocal range and her way with a lyric are there for all to hear. They wilt in the spotlight, unable to deal with the exposure.
Beach House may have been aiming for the stilted grace of Nico or the slow burning ache of Hope Sandoval, but Legrand more often that not comes off as disinterested and half asleep. Devotion ambles where it should stride. All The Year is three and a half minutes where nothing happens, very slowly. The barely audible drum pattern and organ chords drift past like fallen leaves in a breeze.
On Astronaut the lyric runs, “Come over to my house / I’ll pour some tea for us / One sugar or two,” embarrassingly trite by anyone’s standards. Elsewhere the lyrics are hazy and ambiguous to the point entering the realms of nonsense. The images don’t linger or hook; they have disappeared the second they leave the speakers.
Thankfully it’s not all somnambulism and ennui. Gila has a great slide guitar opening and an atonal piano break, the song buoyed by sweet humming organ chords that stay just the right side of cloying. Home Again’s rattle of tambourine percussion and woozy organ riffs sounds like a fairground in an empty winter, the sprightly waltzes playing out to empty rides and the rain lashed pavements.
Disappointingly, Devotion feels like a step backwards, Beach House erasing what had made them special. The songs lack the emotional pull of the duo’s debut. Seeds of greatness are still evident, but this direction just seems like a dead end.