Beach House's Alex Scally will never force you to chant, clap or snap to his music.
"When I go see a band, and they engage in crowd participation, I immediately want to leave," he says. "It's so pathetic, and the easiest way on earth to have people be like, 'Oh, I had a great time at that show!' It's the lowest possible form of live performance."
That isn't to say Scally and his bandmate, French-born Victoria Legrand, are indifferent when it comes to playing live. On the contrary, Scally says Beach House, which has been touring fairly continuously since the members came together in Maryland in 2004, seeks to "figure out how to entertain the audience but also not coddle them."
There's a particular challenge in listening to Beach House's fourth record, Bloom, which came out in May. It's an exercise in the anti-single: Untrained listeners might say the tracks sound a little similar, but really, it's one long composition — the spaces between songs carry just as much weight as the songs themselves.
"One of the worst things ever is when a song puts you in a mood, and then the next one ruins it," Scally says. "We spent a lot of time figuring out the exact amount of seconds between songs. It was a weird obsession with minutiae. Like, 'Let's make it a half a second longer and see what that pause feels like.' "
The gaps feel like heavily weighted breaths — deep, hollow sighs between stanzas, breaks in the page. You can hear crackles and white noise between the music. The songs, though, are all twinkling, lyrical keyboards hurling through space, pulled back to earth by Legrand's echoey vocal tone — she sings as if her vocal cords are wrapped in gauzy fabric. For all their other-worldliness, the songs are still expertly crafted — never too loose, never indulgent at the expense of melody. And for that reason, the genre frequently assigned to Beach House's sound (i.e., "dream-pop") is misleading. Sure, the tunes are dreamy, gauzy, hazy, ethereal — all the things that "dream-pop" denotes. But dreams are unpredictable, scattered and at times meaningless or difficult to decipher, whereas these songs are grounded in their full approach, pulling subtle reference more from George Harrison's All Things Must Pass than the band they are continually compared to, Cocteau Twins.
Bloom isn't a concept record, but it was sparked by Scally and Legrand's fixation with mastering the idea of a unified work. "I don't know why," Scally says. "For some reason we were so obsessed with everything flowing in this exact way. And I'm not sure we will ever be that obsessed with making a unified extreme of an album again. There was definitely a crazy amount of effort."
Part of the motivation was the band's distaste for the ephemeral, at-the-surface nature of download culture. "Everyone has one song by 100 million different artists on their iTunes, and they don't even really know what that artist is about," Scally says. "They just have that one song. People have so much music, but barely listen to it. They just collect." But Bloom is difficult to pick apart. Sure, tracks can exist alone — "Myth" was the proper single by necessity, and "Other People" stands out as a stunning pop dialogue on connections and the lack thereof. But with a nearly 40-second fuzzy intro, "Other People" is best heard exactly as intended: fed into by the spinning tail of "Lazuli," one riptide endlessly linked to the next. But next, after going full force into the art of the cohesive LP, Beach House is going to shake things up.
"On the next record we'll probably want something more disjointed," Scally says. "I think it's a growing sense of two worlds that we are starting to feel. I don't want to say too much, since we are only now generating ideas. But it's almost a black hole where everything gets sucked in, and the people on the other side have no idea that it's even happening."
Quantum mechanics aside, Beach House has always been able to catch a certain ethos and spit it out in a way that falls a little outside of our comfortable universe. Whether barreling through keyboard riffs or the gravitational whirlpools of outer space, their light always gets out. Just don't expect a sing-along.