For someone who makes such minimalist and ethereal music, Beach House singer-keyboardist Victoria Legrand sure can be voluminous.
Legrand and Alex Scally craft dreamy, slow-moving songs with emotional resonance that outstrips the spare details. It can be as simple as Legrand murmuring, "Other people want to keep in touch / Something happens and it's not enough" over crashing waves of keyboard melancholia. Legrand's sultry coo and the slowly undulating textures conspire for a Rorschach effect, accommodating whatever you might project onto it.
"It can be a specific feeling and a specific story, but it's all in the way you do it," said Legrand. "The way that you arrange it can be abstract or minimalistic. It doesn't have to be all the details or all the information. That's why it's art."
She continued: "If you look at a Rothko, that painting is performing beyond his hands and it's communicating something different to every person that experiences it. Some of it, he could have predicted, I'm sure; some of it, he could never predict."
The band's fourth album, Bloom, was released in May and reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts. It was the follow-up to 2010's commercial hit, Teen Dream. Bloom doesn't break new ground, nor does it try to. The band's intent and style has remained consistent since it formed eight years ago.
And while Beach House has honed its song-crafting skills since its eponymous 2006 debut, the duo's process is very much the same as it ever was. Legrand and Scally hit the studio without preconceptions or intellectualized constraints. The idea is to let the music come out of them and surrender themselves to their creativity and the process.
"Chaos is in nature, entropy is in science and the universe. You have to accept that things aren't going to be perfect ever, no matter how hard you try. The vision you have will always be something slightly different when it comes out, but you have to love that and go with it," Legrand said. "That's the beauty of it. Yes, there are moments of chaos where you've spent weeks on the song and then the feeling is gone and you have to start all over again. There is darkness, too--in every light there is darkness--but you can't create something without conflict."
The music's understated nature camouflages its contrasts and ambivalences. The sound can be nonthreatening--lulling organ fills that suggest a shoreline watercolor, low droning guitar like whistling wind--but the lyrics are rife with ache, longing and a struggle to maintain hope.
On "New Year," Legrand's vocals waver between an upbeat trill ("Can you call it? / See it coming?") and doleful resignation ("All you ever wanted? / Is it getting away?") amidst the whirl of a slow-moving calliope. On "Wild," she ponders her father's profligate ways, deriding and romanticizing them at the same time: "A little wine / you stole a smile / the earth is wild / you've got no time ... Heartless to say / go on pretending."
There's an intimacy and a distance in the music--like a dream half-remembered or a startlingly crisp childhood memory, the snapshot colored by pastel marker embellishments. Legrand loves the dance of life and finding different ways to engage it.
"All humans have that urge to connect to something they believe is there but they don't know. Some people go to church and they believe it is this one thing and other people believe it is in another person, or some people believe it is in a song," she said. "It's the romanticism as much as the idea that's inside of songs, and the paradox is the fact that to achieve that feeling in a song sometimes is very easy and happens very quickly, and then sometimes it takes a great deal of work to preserve that feeling."
Legrand tries to form an ecosystem around which a feeling can grow. And since it's all about emotion, she tries not to intellectualize it much. Instead, she gives the song what it calls for, all while crafting and guiding the work to its culmination.
"It's like a psychological, emotional and artistic invisible tennis match in slow-motion. They go back and forth, those things," she said. "It's this incredible witch's brew, a bubbling cauldron."
She continued: "There's a great deal of craft that happens, but the big moments--when you have the title, or the first line, or when you write the bridge, when you realize that the guitar part for the beginning of the verse is totally not the right feeling--these are all these very deep intuitive feelings. ... It's very beautiful and sometimes can be frustrating because for months you do everything you can and don't get that lightning bolt."
But songs, like a child, are raised to be released and find their own homes. Legrand is quite rhapsodic about her role in what she sees as a symbiotic relationship.
"It's yours for so long. You work it, you dream it, you live with it. So at the end of the day, what joy is there for us to hold on to it?" asked Legrand. "That invisible incredible feeling that occurs when you know you've made something that means something to you, and will by the power of transference mean something to another human? At the end of the day it's not for me. It's something I need because that's how I express the condition of living as a human, but it's ultimately supposed to help someone else."