beachhouse-depressioncherry-900If you want to hear a band that refuses to compromise its sound and instead chooses to evolve on its own terms, transcending their influences, you should check out Beach House. The duo of singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally have endured comparisons ranging from Nico-era Velvet Underground to Dream Pop. Sometimes they have been even more egregiously lumped in with the chill wave movement. But really, they’ve turned an affection for vintage organs, exercises in looping guitar lines and echo effects to encapsulate their personal experiences with a deep-seated connection to their instruments and the crafting of melodies. When I spoke to Legrand a few years ago (Beach House’s Victoria Legrand talks recording upcoming new album: ‘Bloom’), she revealed just how intimately she feels about Beach House’s music, bristling and the chill wave comparisons and explaining an almost spiritual connection to the creation of music when I asked her who the song title “Irene” refers to. She told me:

It’s not a specific person. It’s the name that describes the entity of that song, which is, in itself, a person. The song for me is a spirit, so it’s no different when I say, yeah, it is somebody. It’s this character, this song. It’s this kind of mystery of:  What is in that? What is in that room? Why am I compelled toward this? And that’s for me, one of those songs where it feels like sort of a question and answer within itself. It’s like, why am I drawn towards this, but I can’t help it?

With Depression Cherry, the Baltimore duo take both a step forward in their song-craft while glancing behind. Gone are the live drums that made their latest albums sound more organic. Instead, the duo brings back the electronic precision of the drum machine, a key element to their early sound. The strength of their last album, 2012’s Bloom, could be found in the raw moments where the members gelled and ran with a song. The tension between the musicians playing together and the song leading them on a journey felt palpable in these blissful moments of chemistry. These instances are few on Depression Cherry, due to a lack of a live drummer. However, the control of the songwriting and a sense of experimentation with the Beach House formula makes this album one of the duo’s most intriguing records in its history, standing up heartily to repeat listens.

It opens with a slow burn. “Levitation” is at first just skittering drum machine and twinkling keyboards. As the keyboards swell, Legrand sings in a higher pitch than usual, beachhouse-2015-promo-01-shawnbrackbill-1500x2248-300enjoying the end of her breath, as she says, “You and me…” The song slowly builds with spare notes of added keyboards, hushed harmonizing vocals and even an additional programmed rhythm. After some potent, yet unobtrusive synthesized stings, Scally breaks out a rumbling, soaring guitar line where Legrand sings, “There’s a place I want to take you…” and her voice layers up, tangling in a helix of vocals, as a shimmering drone emerges and overtakes all the instruments, which swell in layers of harmony before they fade off and meld into space as a sparkling drone swells and overtakes the song. It’s as if the band has slipped away into the darkness. It’s a charming opener that highlights how the duo can play with so many of layers of sound for a simple yet immersive mood.

The layers of unintelligible voices and harsh guitar work, topped off with massive organ chords that open “Sparks,” feels like a harsh follow-up to the majestic opener. “Sparks” was released on July 1, as the first single to hype the release of Depression Cherry. It certainly hinted at the experimental spirit of the new album, albeit a bit heavy handedly. It’s a dense track that feels a little over-whelming for its own good. The best bit arrives when Scally shifts to screeching laser like loops from his guitar at the song’s center. Beach House has an instinctual sense of dynamics that even keep their weaker tracks interesting and compelling.

On the other end, the highlight of the album has to be “PPP.” It was released as the album’s second teaser single last week via Spotify. Scally kicks the song off with a sort of bright, circular guitar line that will remind some of “Lazuli” (ironically, the second single off the previous album). Legrand plays around with some speak-singing at the start before going into her usual dreamy voice. “Did you see it coming? It happened so fast.” But this is really Scally’s track. He has an amazing moment at the center of the song, repeating a line he kicks off as he climbs down his fret board, repeating it in a kind of loop, but each time exploring its subtle possibilities with an extra note here or a different emphasis on the notes there. Each time the loop grows more thrilling and entrancing. It’s a brilliant moment as grand and as the epic finale of “Irene,” from Bloom. I dare say “PPP” makes the album, casting a pall across the tracks that follow it. Still, close listens grant payoffs.

“Days of Candy” closes the record, and it seems like a deceptive snooze at the start, sounding like some unformed, skimpy Cocteau Twins song. Legrand sings in an uncharacteristically higher octave as the song churns along on a slower beat, propelled by a monotone piano and some cheesy zaps of a synthesizer. But a turn in the song redeems it, reaching a surprisingly charming climax propelled by the sudden appearance Scally’s churning guitar as Legrand sings, “I know Beach House Band Photoit comes too soon, the universe is riding off with you … I want to know you there, the universe is riding off with you.” It’s a beautiful line that captures the fleeting moments that define one person to another by also proving definitive to a life joined in intimacy that is a universe unto itself. It’s the perfect closer to an album that lives up to its title, sounding a bit sad … in its own sweet way while celebrating the remarkable chemistry of Beach House. With Depression Cherry, Beach House shows an incredible maturity in its songwriting, dropping the more gimmicky elements of their early years, like the vintage-inspired sound, and shows a blossoming, a coming into its own where there’s an assured exploration of a sound that stands on its own merits.

Our vinyl is in the mail, so I cannot comment on its sound quality (the album sees official release this Friday, Aug. 28). I will offer this one tidbit:  The album was recorded last November at Studio in the Country in Louisiana. The press materials have not said what equipment was used, but the studio does have the capability of recording to analog tape. When I spoke to Legrand about recording Bloom, she noted the band had recorded to two-inch tape, and that was important to them. I can only imagine it still is, so we have some high hopes for re-experiencing this album as a vinyl record. It’s also worth noting, the album cover has a distinct fuzzy quality (see close-up in the gallery below), adding another tactile layer to the experience of listening to a record. Also, of the posting of this review, the limited “loser edition” clear vinyl was still available at the Sub Pop shop. Click here to order direct from them. If you want to support this blog with a little commission, click here to order it from Amazon, where it is currently on sale for the super crazy price of $8.99 (yes, cheaper than the mp3s and CD!).

Hans Morgenstern

We got a streaming link to the entire album back on Aug. 11 after pre-ordering the vinyl from Sub Pop. All images above provided by Sub Pop.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

As promised in my earlier album review, an update to my review of Beach House’s new album Bloom, examining the vinyl record release (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). Like any decent record maximized to highlight the audio depth of the format, the 50-minute Bloom has been spread across two platters that turn at 45 rpm. Besides that, as noted in earlier posts, Victoria Legrand, the band’s singer and keyboardist, revealed that Beach House recorded this, it’s fourth album, to tape. An analog source via an analog medium is always the best at capturing the subtleties of any studio recording, i.e. “the warmth” everyone talks about when referring to vinyl.

Bloom certainly rises to the occasion in its vinyl format. The moment Legrand’s voice appears, the effect on a proper sound system will make your heart skip a beat. The clarity on the vinyl is extraordinary, from the complex subtle range of resonance in the clang of the metallic beat that opens “Myth” to the subtle twitter in Legrand’s warble. Where the mp3s had some ambiguity in the mix, on vinyl, the lyrics come across much clearer, as if Legrand is whispering them right into your ear. You can even hear the soft, subtle smack of her lips as she says “people” in “Other People.”

The record also grants the band’s dense instrumentation much more room to breath and reverberate with little distortion. For a band known as a shining example of the dream pop genre, the effect of vinyl favors the dense sound while also not compromising it. When the instruments pile up at the start of “Wild,” the music is almost a new experience compared to the mp3 version, which I spent studying for months before I heard the vinyl. The rhythm track alone is a revelation. It pulses along on a steady, spacious beat featuring a diverse array of sources. It includes a tambourine, a flat canned Casio-like rhythm track and the soft pillowy beat of toms.

“Lazuli” opens with the nice warm hiss of the recording and flows right out from the fade out from “Wild.” Another great thing about vinyl, is you will get no annoying little digital jumps that you must tolerate when stringing mp3s together. Tracks flow organically from one moment to the next. It’s very natural and of essence to the record.

If there is one protest I have about vinyl is the need to get up and switch sides, interrupting the flow of an album. It’s double worse when it comes to double albums. However, all the breaks between the four sides of Bloom actually work. By the time you get to Side 3 and the creeks of the insects start, it makes for a genius moment of starting the music anew after a pause to swap platters. The mp3 version has the chirps of the cicadas at the end of “Troublemaker,” but they clearly work to better effect on the vinyl as they kick off Side 3, just ahead of “New Year:” a bit of nature before fading into the breathy sighs and churning keyboard that open the track.

Finally of note: my favorite track, the closer: “Irene.” The pounding of Daniel Franz on the bass drum as Alex Scally pummels his electric guitar on the way to the song’s epic tangle of guitar lashings and organ drones that grows more ecstatic with each refrain of Legrand’s luscious, patient declaration of “It’s a Strange Paradise” never sounded more dynamic.

Unique to the vinyl, “Irene” ends with a series of looping clicks and surface noise, which probably depends on how clean you keep your needle. The only way to stop it and continue to the next untitled, “hidden” track requires you to physically pick up the needle and put it back down. This marks the seven minutes of silence on the mp3 and CD versions, before the hidden track appears. It’s takes some effort, but again there’s a pay off to working with a proper stereophonic system. It’s the only song on Bloom that features Legrand’s voice bouncing back and forth on your headphones or between your speakers.

There are many special moments to the vinyl, which is pleasantly presented in a wide, embossed cover sleeve (the white dots are raised on the surface). Inside are two heavy insert sleeves with evocative photography on flat-finish cardboard. Inside each of those is another sleeve with lyrics and song titles. It also includes a card with a download code for an MP3 version of the album. The vinyl is thick 180-gram weight for better, lasting sound quality.

A final note on the vinyl version: There are also two limited edition versions to look out for. Some were manufactured on white vinyl. A sticker on the wrap denotes this version as the “Loser” edition, and was available to those who pre-ordered the album on Sub Pop on a first-come, first-served basis. It has since sold out. There is also an even more rare glow-in-the-dark edition. Only 250 of those were released worldwide (300 manufactured, according to Sub Pop’s website). It also has a silver sticker of the wrap that states “Special Edition GLOW vinyl.” Here’s the only picture I found of it opened on-line from Bull City Records:

So, colored vinyl, especially glow-in-the-dark, makes for a nice gimmick to boost the value of the record, but audiophiles are sure to win no matter the color of Bloom‘s vinyl because, once again, Beach House and Sub Pop Records have created a great-sounding record for quality turntables.

Note: Sub Pop Records provided a review copy of this record for the purposes of this review.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Too often, lately, I have heard lush, layered records only to feel dizzy and nauseous by the end. So-called chill wave has often been a culprit. The redundancies and piercing electronics of bands like Washed Out and Neon Indian annoy more than sooth these ears. Then you have cutesy retro bands like Cults: more high-pitched convolutedness. I found myself hard-pressed to find a decent record last year due to all the self-indulgent, shallow noise hyped by the taste-makers.

Then, this year, a brilliant, refreshing aural experience came along in the form of Bloom by Baltimore-based Beach House. The band has long been recognized for its do-no-wrong dream pop, a genre of music that emerged in the late eighties thanks to bands as divergent as the ethereal Cocteau Twins to the noisy My Bloody Valentine. But even those pioneering bands’ records often felt difficult to endure all the way through. Beach House’s fourth album further proves it has the know-how to balance layered, driving sounds with stark, spare musical moments with a delicate touch.

Over two months ago, the band released “Myth” as a free stream and download on the Internet as a teaser to the new album. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand called it a “gateway,” as it also opens the new album. A scratchy beat and the flat ding of a bell offers a deceptively simple opening for a few seconds until the trill of high-ranged keys on an organ, accompanied by Alex Scally’s equally athletic vibrato harmony on a steady-handed electric guitar, somersaults in to overtake the lead. Legrand’s voice joins in as the steady thud of Daniel Franz’ drums grow restless, pounding on in double time. With a booming, patient voice Legrand sings, “Drifting in and out/You see the road you’re on.” The second she sings the first note, a deep hum from the other end of an organ rumbles in accompaniment. Halfway through the song, Scally heralds a change in tone with the lethargic, resonant strum of his instrument like a wave blowing apart on the rocks of a craggy shore. Legrand sings strong and large with a slight echo effect decorating her voice turning the words only slightly unintelligible. Certain words are not completely clear, especially during the chorus. But that is the abstract charm of this record, begging the listener to fill in the gaps with his or her own hearing and interpretation. A few strums later, and the song returns to its driving form for a moment before closing out on ecstatic tremolo guitar work.

“Wild” seems to have a similar construct, but the distinctions are in the details. It opens with a mysterious hiss and hum that could be the processed howl of an organ or the wind across the surface of the ocean. A stuffy, tinny beat appears before a swell of cymbals heralds Scally’s guitar, driving along in cascading licks that chime with a brilliance many might have heard in a song by the Cure. Legrand’s singing is more obscured, which rolls along like the shimmer of pulsing, undulating waves on the surface of the sea. It ends once again with Scally’s tremolo on the higher-end of the fret board. Legrand’s organ offers more of an ambient, drone effect— humming and shimmering chords below the ecstatic work of Scally and the pounding, deep, relentless beat by Franz.

The third track, which already saw release as a 7-inch single for Record Store Day 2012, also arrives with a distinct, spare intro only to be coated in layers of luscious sounds. As a processed electronic pulse and melody is overtaken by swelling organ chords and the boom of Franz’ drum kit, Legrand’s voice finally does not even pretend to sing in English, just pulsing, soft sighs of “huhs.” It makes for another luscious moment, but this time missing Scally’s guitar for the first half of the song. However, his licks return as the song strips back its wall of organs, to bring back the canned electro opening, providing Scally space to offer a beautiful, if subdued gem of a moment on rolling, sliding guitar. “Like no other, you can’t be replaced,” Legrand sings repeatedly, as the song calmly heads towards its fade out.

Three songs in, and the album has only offered a dynamism and familiarity that brings comfort instead of inducing nausea. Beach House crafts songs with a patience and deliberation that highlights and celebrates the players’ talents without sacrificing the entirety of the experience. Bloom never seems to falter, offering one aural treat after another. “The Hours” features a standout hook: a duel between Legrand’s pulsing organ and Scally’s patient slide guitar. Thrown in here and there throughout the album are subtle field recordings. The distant sound of kids on the beach and whispers of “something” or nothing at all open “the Hours.” The sound of cicadas often heard in exterior scenes of Japanese movies appears to cap off “Troublemaker” before disappearing with an odd whistle to make way for the chiming guitar and sighing voices of “New Year.” These are genius little moments that break up the coldness of the interior of a studio or, worse, the zeros and ones of a computer file. Bloom is the sound of nature and the musicians clearly understand their humble roles as channels to the sublime power of music.

The crowning achievement arrives during the trio (or quartet?) of tracks that cap off the album. “Wishes” opens on a soft, spare beat, like many of Bloom’s tracks.  The band layers on the melodies with patience: the swell of a high-pitched organ chord, the patter of a canned rhythm track, the noodle of keys, the loop of a guitar line. Chords from sighing organs build as the voices pile up and overlap. Even a masculine voice appears to harmonize for a bit. Scally’s guitar detours into a driving, Gothic hook, pauses a moment to allow Legrand space to sing the chorus and returns with a high-pitched tremolo. The song turns back to its driving layers of melody, and there is a distinct pause for silence after the fade out.

“On the Sea” takes the album into a maintained, spare melody unheard of in quality until now. It fades in like a light gradually illuminating the darkness. Only a ringing guitar and sprightly piano melody bound along as Legrand sings, “Out on the sea we’d be forgiven…” Franz offers a persistent thump on the bass drum like the click of a metronome. The only intricate rhythm is the persistent melody of piano and guitar. A minute in and Scally’s tremolo work breaks it down and another shimmering hum emerges subtly from the depths. The song becomes steadily ecstatic as the twirls of minimal, airy organs build like the persistent repetition of the music of Philip Glass. Legrand’s voice is almost operatic as the music swells and then eases back to the same, spare opening. It fades to give way to the rumble of what again sounds like the wind slicing across the surface of the sea.

The hiss continues as “Irene” starts forming on the swelling hum of what sounds like the deep rumble of a Farfisa or Harmonium organ. An old, canned scratchy beat appears as the minimalist pulse of a guitar persists in a dynamic pull and tug, as if waiting to explode only to recede again. There is a little climb to bright melody before a detour back to the minor-key tug-of-war of dynamics. “Irene” seems to expand and reduce in dynamics until the layers of melodies pause, allowing Scally to explore every stroke of his electric guitar. He repeats and repeats and repeats each stroke. Every lash is a growing mark of anticipation toward the edge of climax. “It’s a strange paradise,” sighs Legrand, as other layers of equally repetitive melodies emerge and coat each other, unfolding in a patient, droney jam session of swelling organs, intricate guitar lines and splashing crashes of cymbals. As the sound expands on each refrain with Scally’s vicious tremolo, Legrand slowly and rhythmically repeats: “It’s a strange paradise.” The band seems to delight in exploring a simple groove that grows more entrancing with each refrain. It grows over the final two-and-a-half minutes of the six-and-a-half minute song to peter off suddenly in one last quiver of tremolo that echoes away into a fade out.

The finale of “Irene” is so ecstatic that the band grants the listener seven minutes of silence before a little tape hiss arrives to apply the bandage after the aural gutting from such a din of ecstasy. A steady tap of a drum beat fades in, and the quiet quaver of guitar accompanied by the high-pitched pulse of an organ emerge. Legrand’s voice bounces rapidly from speaker to speaker in an enhanced stereophonic effect distinctive from the other songs on Bloom. This hidden track is spare but seems to come from another dimension. It offers a quiet moment of relief at the end of one of Beach House’s grandest accomplishments. It has been a couple of years since this listener has heard an album that offered as complete a listening experience as Bloom.

Finally, on the vinyl format of this album, I have yet to hear it, but Legrand mentioned recording a lot of the album to tape, and of course, the band did enter a proper studio (Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas) to spend seven weeks recording Bloom. Audiophiles agree analog tape is the best source for analog vinyl. Sub Pop have promised to send a copy of the double vinyl soon, so expect this post to see an up-date after a spin on the home hi-fi. Edit: the up-date has been posted: Vinyl review: Beach House – ‘Bloom’

Miami area tie-in: Local Miami-based indie record shop Sweat Records will host “The Bloom Happy Hour Release Party,” on the album’s official release date, this Tuesday, May 15, from 5 to 7 p.m. They will offer complimentary drinks for those 21 and over whilst playing the CD in its entirety. Attendees can also expect special prizes from Sub Pop Records. (Note: Sub Pop supplied an advance copy of Bloom in early April for the purpose of this review and the linked interviews with Legrand).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

The National Weather Service had issued urban flood advisories and severe thunderstorm warnings for the night of Beach House’s return to Miami Beach, last night. But the real storm of note came from the wash of dream pop emanating from three diminutive souls surrounded by crates of light and smoke on the Fillmore Miami Beach stage at the Jackie Gleason Center.

At first entry through the doors, it seemed– as usual– the rain would be enough to keep local music fans home and dry. As about 100 people gathered around the stage and scattered themselves among the few seats behind the soundboard, a security guard commented how he had not seen such a weak turn out for a concert in about a year.

Though it looked grim, at first, the people did wing up showing up, trickling in at a gradual pace until the front of the pit actually felt stuffy and humid. Every 20th female or so wore a polka dot shirt, just like Beach House singer Victoria Legrand has in the past. Polka dots are also the image of choice on the Baltimore-based group’s up-coming album, Bloom (due May 15 [review coming soon]). By the time Zomes, aka Asa Osborne, guitarist of Lungfish, walked over to his single keyboard at the front of the stage, at around 9 p.m., the crowd had already grown antsy. However, they had to endure the minimalist assault of a humming old Casiotone for a half-hour or so, first.

Though some would find Zomes’ drones tiresome and even torturous, it actually provided a nice minimalist warm-up to Beach House. Osborne would noodle with repetitive, slow arpeggios with one hand while holding down a few keys in a sustained, rumbling hum with another. Meanwhile, a programmed drum track tapped out various slow rhythms. The droning music seemed to come from another world and time. It sounded as if it was made for the art galleries of Düsseldorf in the early 1970s, but barely anyone in attendance paid it any mind. People still chattered comfortably. Someone said something about the “drug war in Mexico.” Another person said, “I think about it all the time.” The vibrato drone of the old keyboard persisted. Every five minutes or so, Osborne would pause, the audience would applaud. Osborne would then offer a slightly different beat and play another lethargic melody. People would converse again. The applause grew more enthusiastic with the halting of every piece. Osborne would barely look up, much less say anything as he continued indulging in the din. During the last two numbers, people would audibly groan when he offered another canned beat and proceeded to press the keys again. He would say nothing and persist producing a magical, if under-appreciated minimal racket indebted to Philip Glass and early electro-Krautrock pioneers Cluster. It was creative in an almost Dadaist manner, but required much more patience to listen to than this audience cared to offer.

Osborne would stop just after 9:30 p.m. and walked off to polite applause. Four hulking rectangular crates were unveiled at some point on stage. Two of even height stood in the middle and two shorter ones on either side. They first looked like the striped black and white interior columns inside a Sephora store. The headline players came out to enthusiastic cheers and a low-lit stage. Legrand offered the slow ramble of the opening organ line to “Troublemaker,” and guitarist Alex Scally, sitting to her right, joined in on electric guitar on a dual note climb up his instrument’s neck. Legrand sang in a languorous, breathy voice, “Like a hand you reached out to me … The thunder rolls in with the dawn … Tiny fingers on the edges … Watch it unravel … pulling everything apart.” As Legrand starts sighing out breathy “ahhs,” drummer Daniel Franz, sitting to her left, offered a steady beat on a kit with cushioned drum mallets. It was five-minutes of ethereal musical bliss that portended well for the show.

As the band continued through several new songs from the yet-to-be-released Bloom, the columns behind it gradually revealed themselves as objects of depth. Behind horizontal slats of what looked like evenly spaced 2 x 4s, propellers slowly turned. An incandescent light shown through and billowing smoke puffed and jutted out in an incongruous amount of directions. Cones of light crisscrossed at odd angles and sometimes seemed to puff along to the music. It may have been an optical illusion, just as the layers of ringing guitars and humming organs, along with Legrand’s voice seem to create its own psycho-acoustic illusion of melodies that were not actually there. The music had a power beyond human and mechanical means, reliant on the music itself.

At one point, Legrand thanked the crowd for its patience, as Beach House performed all but one song off Bloom (two if you count the album’s hidden track). There were a few appearances of songs from the band’s prior release, Teen Dream (see the only I recorded that night above), as well and a couple of older tunes (see setlist below). But truly, the night belonged to Bloom. Though the band performed an encore with two older fan favorites, “Turtle Island” and “10 Mile Stereo,” it saved the clincher, “Irene,” for last. You could easily tell the band delighted in this song’s gradual, swelling dynamic, even though many in the audience had yet to familiarize themselves with it. Some audience members trickled out to beat the rush to the parking garage, as the song began. But this song made the whole night for this write, and no song in Beach House’s repertoire matches its minimalist slow-core grandeur. As it built up on Legrand’s steady pulsing organ chords and Scally’s quivering guitarcraft, Legrand would sing “It’s a strange paradise” every few bars between banging her luscious hair in twirls, until the music could not build anymore. A few messed up notes were easy to forgive for the passion the trio put into the performance of this amazing song.

This show marked the start of a grand tour that will continue late into the year. Judging from a mostly rapturous response, the band will do well as fans grow familiar with the music from Bloom, the group’s strongest release in its career.

Hans Morgenstern

Setlist:
Troublemaker
Other People
Norway
Walk in the Park
Wild
Lazuli
Silver Soul
Equal Mind
The Hours
New Year
Zebra
Wishes
Take Care
Myth

Encore
Turtle Island
10 Mile Stereo
Irene

Remaining tour dates (so far– more TBA):

05/09 – Orlando, FL @ Beacham Theater*
05/10 – Jacksonville, FL @ Freebird Live*
05/11 – Birmingham, AL @ The Bottletree*
05/12 – Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre*
05/13 – Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel*
05/15 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
05/23 – Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
05/24 – London, UK @ Village Underground
05/25 – Belgium, BE @ De Kreun
05/26 – Amsterdam, NL @ Melkweg
05/27 – Berlin, DE @ Volksbuhne
05/29 – Paris, FR @ Maronguinerie
05/31 – Dudingen, CH @ Bad Bonn Kilbi Festival
06/02 – Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Sound
06/03 – Montpellier, FR @ Le Rockstore
06/04 – Bordeaux, FR @ Theatre Barby
06/05 – Nantes, FR @ Stereolux
06/06 – Lyon, FR @ Epicrerie Moderne
06/07 – Blarritz, FR @ L’Atabal
06/08-09 – Porto, PT @ Optimus Primavera Sound
07/01 – San Diego, CA @ House of Blues **
07/03 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre **
07/06 – Aspen, CO @ Belly Up Aspen **
07/07 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater **
07/09 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom **
07/10 – Lawrence, KS @ Liberty Hall **
07/11 – St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant **
07/12 – Memphis, TN @ Minglewood Hall **
07/13 – Louisville, KY @ Forecastle Festival
07/15 – Chicago, IL @ Pitchfork Music Festival
07/17 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue **
07/18 – Pontiac, MI @ The Crofoot Ballroom **
07/19 – Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues **
07/20 – Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall **
07/21 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Small’s Theatre **
07/23 – New York, NY @ Central Park Summer Stage
08/31-09/02 – North Dorset, UK @ End of the Road Festival

* w/ Zomes

** w/ Wild Nothing

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Not many indie artists or labels know how to do vinyl right. When they do, it is worth noting. Prepare for Beach House to release its new album via Sub Pop Records on May 15. Bloom, the dream pop duo’s fourth album, will see release in the usual CD and MP3 formats. But, as the members of Beach House recorded on tape, it is the vinyl that will do their luscious brand of music the most justice.

I spoke to Beach House’s singer and keyboardist, Victoria Legrand, last month before she and her songwriting partner, guitarist Alex Scally, headed out on tour in support of the new album, with Dennis Franz once again providing drums and percussion. Two stories resulting from this interview have already appeared in the “Miami New Times. One was a blog piece that highlighted a snippet of our near 40-minute conversation over the phone: “Beach House’s Victoria Legrand Talks ‘Myth,’ Music on Vinyl, and Rituals.” Read it by clicking on the Crossfade logo below:

The next article was a longer feature piece that appeared as the lead story of the music section in the print edition of the paper, earlier this week. She spoke about the band’s return to a rather large venue in Miami Beach after playing it only as an opening act for Vampire Weekend, just a year-and-a-half ago. That was when I first heard Beach House, and in my opinion, they stole the show (Beach House seal the deal opening for Vampire Weekend). She also gave some insight into some as-yet unheard tracks from the new album. Read it by clicking on the “Miami New Times” logo below:

As usual in my conversations with musicians, I could not use everything we talked about in those two pieces alone. Some highlights included the detail Legrand offered into the recording of Bloom, which resulted from seven weeks of sessions at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo Texas, during the Fall of 2011. Just as they did with 2010’s Teen Dream, Legrand and Scally once again hired Chris Coady as co-producer. “They make it really easy to just be there and just do your thing,” she said of the studio. “That’s really all an artist can ask for. It’s not how fancy or anything it is. For us, it’s always been about the equipment, the soundboard. We recorded on two-inch tape like we did the last record, so a lot of it’s on tape.”

Audiophiles know that the ideal source for analog vinyl is, of course, analog tape. Legrand recognizes that, as well. “Tape has a certain thing to it,” she noted. “It’s just the way you handle it. The way you treat it, how hard you drive the takes or whatever. It’s just like this amazing material. It can do really awesome things with sounds … There’s still elements of eight track on this album and certain instruments that we use, but it’s always been part of our sound. Everyone uses computers at certain points, but I just feel like … some people say that you can’t tell the difference, but I think you can. I think you can feel something definitely different.”

You can read much more of my conversation with Legrand in the Q&A and story for the “Miami New Times” linked above. One last thing she clarified:  Though I note she is the niece of famed film composer Michel Legrand in an earlier post on this blog (New restoration of ‘A Trip to the Moon’ heads to cinemas with score by Air), she said: “I’m related, but I have no relationship with him. We don’t talk,” she added with a laugh. “I think I saw him when I was 4 years old. I think he’s like in his 80s now? Still tours, but he’s had pretty much no influence in my life in terms of music and family. It’s probably just genetic, honestly.”

The band has just begun its tour for Bloom. The remaining tour dates are as follows:

05/05 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
05/06 – Charleston, SC @ Music Farm*
05/08 – Miami Beach, FL @ The Fillmore*
05/09 – Orlando, FL @ Beacham Theater*
05/10 – Jacksonville, FL @ Freebird Live*
05/11 – Birmingham, AL @ The Bottletree*
05/12 – Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre*
05/13 – Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel*
05/15 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
05/23 – Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
05/24 – London, UK @ Village Underground
05/25 – Belgium, BE @ De Kreun
05/26 – Amsterdam, NL @ Melkweg
05/27 – Berlin, DE @ Volksbuhne
05/29 – Paris, FR @ Maronguinerie
05/31 – Dudingen, CH @ Bad Bonn Kilbi Festival
06/02 – Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Sound
06/03 – Montpellier, FR @ Le Rockstore
06/04 – Bordeaux, FR @ Theatre Barby
06/05 – Nantes, FR @ Stereolux
06/06 – Lyon, FR @ Epicrerie Moderne
06/07 – Blarritz, FR @ L’Atabal
06/08-09 – Porto, PT @ Optimus Primavera Sound
07/01 – San Diego, CA @ House of Blues **
07/03 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre **
07/06 – Aspen, CO @ Belly Up Aspen **
07/07 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater **
07/09 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom **
07/10 – Lawrence, KS @ Liberty Hall **
07/11 – St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant **
07/12 – Memphis, TN @ Minglewood Hall **
07/13 – Louisville, KY @ Forecastle Festival
07/15 – Chicago, IL @ Pitchfork Music Festival
07/17 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue **
07/18 – Pontiac, MI @ The Crofoot Ballroom **
07/19 – Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues **
07/20 – Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall **
07/21 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Small’s Theatre **
07/23 – New York, NY @ Central Park Summer Stage
08/31-09/02 – North Dorset, UK @ End of the Road Festival

* w/ Zomes

** w/ Wild Nothing

It has been almost 20 years since an original, hand-colored print was discovered of George Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). It took more than half that time to repair the film for screening purposes. Part of that time was just waiting for the technology to catch up to the needs required for the destroyed nitrate print. A good place to see the state of disrepair the film was found in can be found at the Technicolor Film Foundation. The restoration was deservedly painstaking. Considered the first science-fiction film in movie history, this 16-minute short from 1902 is one of the most famous of the early silent films. Original hand-colored films in those days were rare, as well. To find one made of one of the most iconic silent films in history, almost a hundred years later, marked a jackpot find.

Le Voyage dans la Lune‘s rebirth is now being celebrated with special screenings at art houses across the US. It already began visiting big screens in South Florida beginning in Broward County, at the Cinema Paradiso, where it premiered on March 3. It will appear in Miami-Dade, finally, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, starting March 23, as part of the European Film Festival in Miami 2012. This new restoration had its world premiere at Cannes, last year.

Big for music fans, as this is a silent film, is a new score by France’s most internationally successful contemporary music duos: Air. The union might seem odd, at first, but Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel have always had a penchant for the retro, even though one might argue that even the most vintage of instruments the duo routinely incorporates could be considered modern compared to the 110-year-old film they have now scored.

Though the synth-heavy duo do not shy away from modern implements like reverbing electric guitar, sparkling organs and even ominous mellotron, there is also timpani, strings, harpsichord and even a few plucks of a banjo, which may just have well been instruments used at the turn of the 20th century. It’s all on display on this new, dynamic score that they not only fashioned for the film but also jumped off from to create songs inspired by the movie. Air mix it all together for an evocative work as good as anything in their discography. The soundtrack therefore doubles as the duo’s eighth album since their debut in 1998. Victoria Legrand, the dreamy, hushed voice of Baltimore-based Beach House, takes lead vocals on “Seven Stars.” It’s a funny coincidence that she happens to be a niece of the famed French composer Michel Legrand. His songs appeared in Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and he won an Oscar® for his work on Yentl.

This new music for Le Voyage dans la Lune fits fine in both Air’s discography, continuing its more accessible sound from their last full-length, Love 2, and to hear it accompanied by the fantastical imagery that inspired it on the big screen is a must for fans of Air. The band remains consistent, proving they know how to handle a score, just as they did with Sophia Coppola’s debut film, the Virgin Suicides.

A vinyl version is due out on April 2, and though available as an import-only, at a steeper price than usual, it should sound worthwhile. Just like Air’s last album, Love 2, it will come on heavy 180 gram vinyl in a gatefold sleeve produced by the boutique vinyl EMI subsidiary the Vinyl Factory. There is also a limited edition box set (only 300 manufactured for worldwide distribution) on higher quality 45 rpm 12-inch records that includes a signed art print by the duo. But all versions of the album include the newly restored color version of Le Voyage dans la Lune on an all-region coded DVD, which also features music exclusive to the score and not featured on the album.

These up-coming theatrical presentations will also feature something exclusive: the documentary film the Extraordinary Voyage by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lang, which spends just over an hour examining the history of this film’s restoration and impact on early impact on cinema. I have not seen this yet, but, according to Miami Beach Cinematheque’s website, it features interviews with Tom Hanks, Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Michel Hazanavicus. It reportedly covers everything from the original film’s 1902 production to the rediscovery of the hand-colored nitrate print in 1993, and the premiere of the restoration on the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival in 2011.

But the real treat will be the chance to see the 16-minute short on the big screen. Méliès practically invented the film narrative with this film using complex sets and costumes. He incorporated special effects like stop motion, and even the dissolves between cuts are credited as his invention. There is no arguing that this film deserves care and preservation. Martin Scorsese laid it out passionately in the subtext of his most recent film, Hugo, which featured Méliès as a character (played by Ben Kingsley). For me, the most amazing aspect of Hugo, were the recreations of the famous sets for Le Voyage dans la Lune, and even performances of the scenes, which unfolded in 3-D on the big screen. It was a surreal, mind-blowing delight that I had not expected to see, as the media was so busy hyping the fact that Hugo marked Scorses’s first 3-D family film.

The word “dream factory” was co-opted by Hollywood long after Méliès knew the power of cinema. In Hugo, Méliès tells the young hero of the film, “If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around… this is where they’re made.” On his deathbed, he famously told Henri Langlois and Georges Franju, “Laugh, my friends. Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams.” (Henri Langlois, First Citizen of Cinema, p. 41). If I had to choose between the idealistic Méliès over the corporate machine of Hollywood, I would hand it to Méliès as the true pioneer of the dream machine now well-known as the movie projector.

Hans Morgenstern

The newly restored hand-colored version of Le Voyage dans la Lune and The Extraordinary Voyage will screen in high-definition digital projection, Friday night (March 23), at 7 p.m. , at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. It will play every following night through Monday night (March 26th), at 7 p.m. each night. For other screening dates throughout the year, see Air’s official homepage on Astralwerks Records.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)