Count the Stars, or don’t

Brett Yale

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand beach house

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand in Vancouver, 2012. Photo by Dustin Wong.

Last week Beach House released their sixth studio album. It wasn’t announced months in advance, or relinquished on ears instantly without notice. You couldn’t choose the price, and it wasn’t a cassette that only a hundred people would get to hold. It didn’t come with blood on it, and you didn’t have to withstand thirty second snippets of the songs on a blog prior.

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand announced the album on Twitter a week before it was available to everyone. It came out on Sub Pop a week later, and was the second LP the duo has released in 2015. When the music press labeled the news as a surprise, Beach House questioned why. Were they caught off guard only because journalists and fans would be hearing a new collection of songs at the same time? The tweet questioning the press has since been deleted by the band, and the major music site that it was in reply to published its review of Thank Your Lucky Stars the day the album was shared with the entire world.

When any album is released in today’s standard music machine cycle, by the time I’ve walked to the record store on a Friday afternoon, gone home, and hit play I may have already heard the opinions of five or ten music writers or friends. They’ve all listened to whichever LP or song, maybe with their headphones at work on NPR or in a rental car driving to the airport via satellite radio. They might have said something to me like this.

It sounds like My Bloody Valentine.

Fine, it kind of does. Walls of guitar reverb? Cool. But, what would it have sounded like if you hadn’t told me that? Would those walls feel the same way in my head at that moment when I got home from the record store on a Friday?

Expectations can dictate art. Even more so in a world where we want all of the information, all of the time and now. That’s how it works, whether it’s an album or staring up at the sky. Depending on how many other stars you’ve seen; the temperature outside; whether or not your boyfriend made up with you after that fight yesterday; what roof you’re standing on; death; the smell of cold fall air; or your parents’ divorce—your perception of the night sky is inextricably painted by your life.

Stars are fucking stars. We see them at night, and every time we do we feel differently about them. They can make us feel anything they want, or nothing at all.

The third time I saw Beach House perform I was in college. It was my first time going to the G-Spot, a space in an old textile mill down by a river near Hampden in Baltimore. It was kind of cold. The dark, simplistic beauty of keystrokes and guitar resonated off the concrete walls of the old mill inducing love, pain, and curiosity in a way that confronted anxiety and the unknown head on. Victoria and Alex carved a path for these songs in this way on that evening in Baltimore, and it’s a moment that’ll forever be a part of who was standing there.

Four years later I spent a couple days with Dustin Wong in the Pacific Northwest on tour with Beach House. I road tripped with him up to Vancouver, where they played a sold out show on the other side of the continent from where I grew up and had experienced their music the most. I had only recently parted ways with living close to family and friends, on top of some heavy news from back east. I watched Dustin, and then Victoria and Alex bellow out familiar sounds to a room full of bouncing strangers (the Commodore has a trampoline floor). It was everything.

Baltimore to Vancouver, Beach House was colored with more factors imaginable. It all contributed to the story and role of them in my life as a band—a bond that only art can provide. If it isn’t the full vision of those who created it, how are we able to follow along with certainty? Sure, we’ll all hear it differently, but that’s the point. If someone told you how to hear it, or why you should hear it, or even that his hair is dark, it might not be the same thing.

Beach House Thank Your Lucky Stars

Music journalism and telling the story of art for others is important, no one is saying otherwise. But, we’re lucky enough to live in a world where art and content can be shared however the creator of those pieces choose. It doesn’t need to adhere to a system, because that’s business and not art. Sure, that system probably works for a number of projects, but it doesn’t have to for all of them. Beach House wanted us all to hear their new record at the same time, with no inkling of expectations or previews to how it’ll sound.

For me, that was fucking beautiful. When I first hit play I was just getting into bed Thursday night after a long, tough week. Presumptions of the new record were solely of my own, and based on years of personal history with their music. They’re a band that has provided deep, enveloping comfort in times of life and death, and here I was in bed expecting nothing but that. Some friend didn’t tell me about guitar squalls, or how the band was listening to nothing but [insert influential artist here] during the recording. At that point in time for me the songs only existed in that moment on a Thursday night in bed, after a kind of shitty week.

For this I’ll thank living in a world where a vision can be forged with no expectations or influence, solely within it’s own. And, Beach House.

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