Listening to Beach House’s Once Twice Melody, I am transported back to their debut self titled album. It has a similarly intimate and dense lo-fi vibe. Although, clearly, different sized recording budgets.
That first 2006 Beach House album might not be their best. But it’s the one I like the most. That, I suppose, has more to do with my own experience, rather than any objective assessment. Maybe the more ambitious grand and lush Teen Dream, or Bloom, are better. But when you first discover new music, it often means more.
For me, I first heard of Beach House just before that debut album. I accidentally saw them performing one afternoon in on Bedford Ave in Brooklyn, New York. It was at a small cafe, out the back of a now long gone record store. There were perhaps half a dozen other people there.
I was at this cafe to meet with Todd, from the record label Carpark Records. As we sat drinking tea, a rather tentative duo shuffled into the corner and set up. The singer also played a large old organ, the sort your Grandparents have. The guitarist sat demurely on a low stool. We watched them perform to the sparse room. I thought to myself, they’re pretty good.
I assume Todd had organised the meeting at this spot so he could also see this band - who, of course, were Beach House. But he didn’t mention anything about it at the time. Todd is a very understated and humble guy. Later, I found out his label Carpark Records were releasing their debut. I don’t know it that deal was struck before or after that modest show, but he has always had great ears.
After Beach House had finished playing in the cafe, I went over to complement them. They seemed shy. To make conversation, I said one day they should come and play a show in New Zealand. They looked at me disbelievingly. I guess random people often approach bands after the show. Likely, they propose all kinds of outlandish things.
About a year later, following the release of their debut album, as it happened, my casual overture did come to pass. I was lucky enough to tour Beach House to New Zealand. At this time, they were still pretty under the radar. In Auckland they played at the Kings Arms to a two thirds full room, similar at Bar Bodega in Wellington (picture below - backstage Bodega). Both nights Bachelorette was the opening act.
Back then, the Kings Arms ‘backstage area’ was in the tenanted flat upstairs . It doubled as a flat lounge. While the band waited to go on stage, in the adjacent kitchen a flattie made a dinner of mince on burned toast. The next day I took Beach House to the beach - Karekare, just outside Auckland (pictured above).
Beach House twice returned to New Zealand for events I was involved in. The second Laneway Festival in Aotea Square (2010), then a few years later closing out waterfront stage at Silo Park.
But that was all a long time ago. Today, the band are one of indie music’s stalwarts. They have released eight albums with hundreds of millions of streams on the internet. They headline festivals all over the world and are signed to Sub Pop. Last week, One Twice Melody went to number one on the US Billboard album chart. Rumour is they have just done a collaboration with Kanye West. Whew.
As for me, while I took less of an interest in the last couple of albums, One Twice Melody feels like a good time to return. The arpeggiated gliding sythesizers and casiotone dinky beats remain. Victoria’s sublime reverberant voice is still as good as it ever was. Like many great bands, Beach House stick to their unique signature sound. But they tweak it in gentle and interesting ways.
Immersing myself in Once Twice Melody, I find the subtle developments become clearer. There are Byrdsesque 12 string acoustic tones on The Bells. Big string arrangements. Folksy steel strings feature on Sunset. Another Go Around’s melody alludes to Big Star. Masquerade hints at goth and the melodramatic 80s. Runaway features harmonizer/vocoder.
From when I first heard Beach House, I always thought there was a sad hopefulness to their sound. Introspection. A subtle yearning for what the future might bring. Now, many years later, it actually is the future. So, listening to Once Twice Melody, I feel a strange nostalgia for the nostalgic. It’s been a while. I’m sure for Beach House it has been even more of a journey.
Review and photos - Ben Howe.
The vinyl edition of Once Twice Melody comes in multiple variations. A double LP, with multiple options. Double Vinyl LP: Silver Edition (Black Vinyl + Poster) and Double Vinyl LP: Gold Edition Box Set (Gold and Clear Vinyl + Poster). Vinyl available to buy here.