I have a clear memory of hanging out on a sidewalk on a summer night, laughing with a friend and a group of people we had just met while Beach House's "Space Song" spilled out of a nearby bar. It was a strange but warm moment, and I associate Beach House's simultaneously shimmering and melancholic sound with the carefree feeling of that situation. The Baltimore duo's newest album, B-Sides and Rarities, put me in that same dazed, smiley mind-frame that is made even more subtly sweet by the vague sense that I should be sad. The remixed previous recordings and unreleased tracks that make up B-Sides and Rarities might travel erratically through time and cover several of the band's creative phases, but they transmit that confusingly blissful Beach House mood throughout.
After the lullaby-esque melody of "Baby" -- an unreleased track from 2010 -- flawlessly softens its own harshly realistic lyrics, Beach House flips the switch with "Equal Mind", the B-side to their popular 2012 single "Lazuli". The cyclical, dreamy instrumental riffs in "Equal Mind" form a solid base for Victoria Legrand's ethereal vocals, which give way to a sliding, effortlessly flying guitar line. I would say that "Equal Mind" has no business as a B-Side, but I guess when you put out the volume of quality music we have seen from Beach House in their thirteen year career, you have to make some tough decisions.
The album takes a darker dive with a remix of "Norway" from 2010 album Teen Dream. While the original version of "Norway" has an upbeat chorus that seems to skim breezily over your ears, the B-Sides rendition achieves a disturbing eeriness through a discordant guitar riff that sounds as if every other note is a mistake. This song gave me the same chills I might get from hearing wolves howl on a dark, cold night in Norway. There are wolves in Norway right?
Normally, dream-pop is the perfect low-volume, ambient background for an introspective walk or a sleepy attempt to get work done, but I've always found that Beach House should be turned all the way up so the sound can fill the room. You could really miss out otherwise. "The Arrangement" showcases an overall gentle swing of the song and heard lyrics that seem to happily shrug off "The arrangement of life". A closer listen revealed the song's contradiction between message and sound as the lyrics ironically urge us to make the best of "The arrangement of lies/ In a party of smiles". I've been to enough graduation parties, schmoozing career fairs, and other phony social events for these lines to conjure up a vivid image of shining grins and forced handshakes. This interpretation gave the song significance that I'm glad I didn't miss, especially from a band like Beach House whose lyrics can fade away in the spell of the song as a whole.
It's hard to pick highlights from this album, but the remix of Teen Dream's "Ten Mile Stereo" is a special one. B-Sides and Rarities unveils the "Cough Syrup remix" of this driving, hopeful 2010 track, and a more aptly named remix never existed. It sounds as if the previous, studio version of the song got a dose of heavy, nighttime formula cough syrup and then tried to walk home. (Disclaimer: I only know this feeling because I once tried to power through a day at work after medicating a severe cold.) The remix opens with Legrand's drowsy voice singing, "The heart is a stone and this is a stone that we throw/ Put your hand on this stone, it's the stone of a home you know". These metaphorical lyrics give the impression that their message must be deciphered, but the song's foggy instrumentals cloud your mind into a contented haze.
Listening to B-Sides and Rarities is like floating down a stream that weaves through Beach House's creative history. The spare, wintry sound of the band's earlier days loses nothing from being paired with synth-y tracks like the album's single, "Chariot". Every song has a characteristic hint of lonely sadness, but every song also somehow feels like your favorite summer night.
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