Beach House Are Still Evolving

On Their Seventh Album, the Dreamy Duo Are Adding Scuzz and Aggression

  • Interview: Bijan Stephen
  • Photography: Brad Ogbonna

Certain times of day are more magical than others, more colored by the natural rhythms of the world. I'll name you two: the magic hour and the witching hour. They respectively describe the hour or so of warm, ochre, late-afternoon light—a reward for making it through the day—and the still, silvered space at three or four in the morning when, historically, no prayers were being said.

Beach House makes music for both times. The duo, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, have been making music together since 2004, when they met in Baltimore's independent music scene. Since then, they have released seven studio albums, the most recent of which debuted last week and is titled simply 7. Their sound has been described as "dream pop," a distinction they don't take offense to but certainly don't embrace; their sound is heady, though—pleasantly woozy. If I had to give it a name, I'd probably call it gnostic pop, or golden hour witchcraft.

Victoria, however, thinks it's simpler than that. "I think that alternative just seems to fit it more, because you have more avenues to go down," she says. "You can be psychedelic, you can be poppy, you can have a rock song. You know? It's like there's a lot more room to do things."

The band's new album, 7, roams freely in that space. Alex begins to explain: "I think there's a lot more dirt, and scuzz and—"

"Distortion," Victoria finishes.

"... And confusion and a lot—"


"... A lot more of night time, a lot more of…"

"More aggression."

"Yeah. More french kiss, less peck on the cheek."

"More french kiss, less peck on the cheek."

They complete each other's thoughts like this, one after the other, Alex the more discursive one, Victoria more direct. Even the way they're dressed is complementary, here in the diffuse afternoon light in the back room of the Ludlow Hotel's lobby cafe. Alex is wearing an all black-hoodie, windbreaker, turtleneck-and blue boots; Victoria, on the other hand, is wearing a big, blue Yves Saint Laurent windbreaker, gold rings and a platinum chain, black painter's jeans, blue socks with daffodils, black loafers, and a LeSportsac fanny pack. Their demeanors, too, work well together-he's intent and soft, while she's more intense, more urgent. He's drinking a Coke; she's sipping on a vodka soda. They're both very gentle.

7 finds the two more in sync than ever, more attuned to what's going on in the world around them—it's sometimes hard to distinguish who's singing what. "Being alone's a drag," Alex says. "It's ultimately having a playmate," Victoria continues. That dynamic shows up in "Black Car," a song on the back half of the album that gestures at the societal tension that's become more evident and more intense of late:

We want to go
Inside the cold
It's like a tomb
But it's something to hold
And in the time
Before it ends
When the stillness bends
I skipped a rock and it fell
to the bottom
Each time I'm walking at night and I can't close my eyes

There's a wish for peace embedded there, beneath the subdued synths, the punishing bass kick, and the androgynous, twinned voice. It's not violent, not quite, but it's right there, right up against the edge.

"I find that language can be stifling, limiting. It's stupid," Victoria says. "But violent language, these times are insane. People get one stupid idea, everything's over, you know? The sense of chaos, or insanity, or darkness, makes you so grateful for what you have," Victoria says. "I think it also fuels us," Alex finishes. Every artist, Victoria says, making sure I write her words down exactly, has a different level of wound.

With 7, Beach House say they've been able to do some of the things they hadn't yet managed to during their 14 years as a band. "The way that 'Lemon Glow' feels-the beat, the vibe, the energy of that," Victoria says. The song is sleek and spare-it alternately describes the feeling of living through a magic hour and, I think, a witching one, with someone nameless and beautiful:

It's what you do
This pulls me through
I come alive
You stay all night
It's what you do
This pulls me through
I come alive
You stay all night

"I think we just started figuring some stuff out," Victoria continues. "Which is insane, thinking that you've made seven records, and now you're kind of—you said in the middle of our career, but I don't know where we're at exactly in our career. You know? There could be seven more, there could be three more." Alex likes this viewpoint, which he finds "optimistic."

"I think the key is, be grateful you found something, but never assume that you've got it, right? Because you gotta stay hungry, and for us we've just been very busy, but happy doing it, exhausted at times. But I don't think we would have it any other way," Victoria says. "Our minds have definitely expanded as a result of all of these experiments."

The other result is that 7 doesn't feel like its predecessors—it has the same warmth, and some of the same synths, but its themes are darker, and for Beach House, more experimental. Visually, Victoria says, it's "definitely black and white, smokey, there are mirrors. There's probably, like, cigarette smoke, something like that. Really thick, caked mascara, like Edie Sedgwick, that kind of... Warhol, but then also lanced into some sort of futuristic thing." Maybe, she allows, some gasoline spills. "To me it's like the explosion point in Zabriskie Point," Alex says.

"The past is always coming back with us, you know, as we throw ourselves into the future."

That scene, if you haven't seen it, is the climax of the 1970 Antonioni film—a mansion deep in the desert explodes, over and over again in slow motion, to the sound of "Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up" by Pink Floyd. Colorful, unidentifiable shrapnel bursts into the air, confetti-like, against a cornflower sky. "That's how I would describe it," Victoria agrees. "And also a little pre-apocalyptic. Or an imaginative view of a night world, you know, which the only color is a green laser, and it's suburbs, and there's emptiness." There's a cohesion to their visions. "The past is always coming back with us, you know, as we throw ourselves into the future," Victoria adds.

"Every time we put out a record, there are all these changes," she continues. "Like, the world has changed, the internet has changed, we have changed, our music has changed, and so do the people that are coming to our shows. The first few times they went on tour, Alex recalls, there weren't many people who came to see them. "Our first three or four years being a band, it always felt like everyone at the shows were older than us," he says. "As we got older, the audiences kept getting younger and younger and younger."

As if on cue, after our interview is over, a nervous young guy who'd been working quietly nearby on his laptop sidled up to our table and introduced himself as a fan. He loved the band, he said, and had seen them play recently in the city. Alex and Victoria were simultaneously amused and flattered; we'd been talking about fans, about how lucky they both felt to be able to continue making music full-time. "There's gotta be a reason for it," says Victoria. "Let's keep plumbing into the depths of whatever this is that we're doing," says Alex—and here, suddenly, was a person who made that possible, who'd made this dream real for them in his own small way. He asked for a selfie. "Sorry, we don't do that," Alex said, genuinely apologetic. The kid wasn't put out at all. He looked exhilarated, like he'd had a close brush with a minor god.

It reminded me of something Alex and Victoria had said earlier. "The excitement comes in the proof," Alex had said. "We got a show tonight, it's at 9PM, we'll be on that stage, we have to bring this thing to life."

"I think it's the electricity that occurs," said Victoria, "that's like-"

"It gives everything purpose," said Alex.

"Like the first few shows, or the first month, or whatever is going to feel like the record's really coming alive," said Victoria.

Before that point, they agree, a record feels analytical, sans soul. "It feels devoid of its heart," said Alex. "So, I'm excited for the heart to return, and it to just be all about sound, and emotion, and sweat, and heat, and alcohol, or whatever. I'm ready for those feelings to come."

Bijan Stephen is a music critic at The Nation. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, and elsewhere.

  • Interview: Bijan Stephen
  • Photography: Brad Ogbonna
  • Grooming: Shideh Kafei