On their self-titled 2006 debut LP, Beach House sounded like one. Off-season maybe, creaky, with sunburnt flaking paint, but idyllic in a way – like a yellowed Polaroid that distills a summer bliss, but holds it at a distance that ultimately proves inaccessible. It was a weathered record, one that sounded old, but like memory and nostalgia, its origin seemed a fiction of the mind rather than some cheaper genre revival. Beach House makes music that feels like a memory of older pop music, but a memory that proves too distant or hazy to call to mind the specifics. They hit familiar chords, but when pressed, leave the listener surprisingly bereft of references.
Devotion is of the same build. Alex Scally’s layered organ buzz and slide guitar lay a foundation for Victoria Legrand's voice, which is simultaneously haunting and beautiful. The element of surprise that aided in the overwhelmingly positive reception of the first record may be lost for their follow-up, but the band is sturdier on its second go, fuller of body and more overtly melodic. While they suggested pop before, here they enter into it with less reservation. Devotion’s 11 tracks never sink in quite as deep as the sporadic stand-outs from Beach House (“Saltwater”, “ Master of None”, “House on the Hill”), but it’s certainly more consistent.
That Devotion goes down a little easier is both its strength and a feature that proves a bit disappointing in the end. Music like this thrives on the ebb between binaries: melody and distance from melody (a spare ethereality, not an atonality in Beach House’s case) or the play between clarity and obfuscation. Here, they have chosen a side, and in giving us the candy up front, maybe there isn’t as much to stick around for in the long run. But no good taste is squandered: the songs neither withhold any pleasure nor jam sugar cubes of charm down any throats. These are more meditative pleasures, calling to mind the function of nostalgia – that is, both the recollection of beauty, and the emptiness felt in the wake of its passage.