Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Beach House (or the story of the end of a decade)

I've been wanting to write about Beach House for quite a long time now, and I've been thinking about what to write here for quite a few days. I mulled it over some turkey, gravy, ass, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, side of chinese food, chocolate chip pie, beer, sweet mead, mulled cider, a side of mulled beer, a smashed windshield, hungover, walking my dog, running with my dog, taking my dog to the woods and I still walked home earlier this evening from work looking at the full moon and I knew that when I got to this spot to try to write about this band that looking at the full moon was probably only the best way to refer to them - as trite, precious, and seriously important as that image is.

See, I knew I'd get here and want to write this post (that's what you call it right? that's what the button says RIGHT?) as fast as I could, with typos and etc. That is not out of some impersonation of Jack Kerouac bop prosody (O, lost! the boots and cigarettes of yesteryearyeasayer), but merely out of the desire to write it down, because that's what this space is for and that is what I feel inside of myself when the air is cold and the sides of buildings have grown dark with lights coming from the windows and you look up and there is the full moon and you don't really know what to do with yourself.

I talk about music with my friends quite a lot (who doesn't? Aliens? No, Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed us that aliens were very musical [Steven Shakespeare's/Spielberg's rising run of dominating the 80's like Bird and Magic]). Most of my friends are musicians. In fact, I am the odd one out who does not play music and I don't know much about the stuff really except for what I like, and what I do like, I like a lot (read: Bob Dylan's Self Portrait). Now, since we talk about music and since my friends are musicians, when we get drunk I like to talk about what it is that people want in music now? What are all of our musicians looking for? What are our audiences looking for? Sure there are plenty of bands coming out of Brooklyn and it is coalescing into a scene as many of our magazine features and newspaper subsections tell us every other week. But what is the resonance? Noise rock? Electronic pop? Regular pop? Alt-country? The offspring of the Talking Heads that was accidentally deleted and then someone clicked the undo button? No, today's music is about this picture below:


Nah, I'm just kidding, that's from Season 3 of Mad Men (which is really what music and the end of this decade are about). No, but what I mean is that when I think of Beach House, the only thing I think about is that Beach House is the sound of longing. Never have I heard a band that personifies an intagible verb better than Beach House. Now that may sound like a convoluted compliment, but really, longing is what is at the center of almost all of our emotions and what is intangible is usually what drives us to do what is great or to fall in love or to take a risk in the first place. Beach House is not the first band, obviously, to strike on this feeling of longing, however, they have personified it. The only way I can describe it is to compare it to listening to "Isis" by Bob Dylan. Admittedly, each sound is different. "Isis" is one of Bob Dylan's hardest hitting songs, with driving, hypnotic piano and ungoldy drums (production!) and Bob wailing on about an abstract tale of a man who isn't ready to love a woman (maybe the woman isn't ready to love him) who then goes on a vague journey to a tomb with a mysterious man only to realize that he has to go back to Isis, because he can "still remember the way she smiled on the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain." This is probably the epitome of the adventure or travel song, a relentless groove and rhythm, mysterious images and lyrics and overall a gripping story. If you don't feel like putting on a coat with a high dusty collar and smoking a million cigarettes while walking out into the distance, then you must seriously be crazy.

Now, how does this connect with Beach House and their "dreamy" sound. Because each song causes in us, the extreme longing for something. Now, you'd say that all music causes us longing. You'd say, the Abbey Road medley longs for something it doesn't even know. That would be true. However, there are two types of longing: the "Isis" longing, which is the longing for adventure and the longing for home ("I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her") which we all feel at all times. Then, there is the longing for what is not known to us, which we all feel at all times. Now, I love the Beatles (read: LOVE [no copyright infringement intended]) but as much as the Abbey Road medley makes me want to look out at the window at the hills passing by and think of my past, Beach House's cumulative work trumps it in terms of personifying longing. Beach House's first album was a tremendous excercise in the fringes of this sound, "Apple Orchard," "Master of None" being prime examples. On the second album, the slow ticking and mechanical tapping of, followed by the ghostly keyboard on "Gila" signal their arrival to mastery. This understanding peaks at the tracks "All the Years," and "Heart of Chambers" and then eases itself into an acceptance at "Darling" with sliding guitars like George Harrison (OK so kill me! Maybe not!).

We all liked that album. I got it early and I fell in love with it in the winter of '07 - '08. But this summer Beach House hinted at what was to come. They got a mesmerizing live show down pat, they added a live drummer to the line-up and now they have a third album, "Teen Dream," which has already been circulated. The first two tracks are better than anything they have done before. "Zebra" adds a bit of the echoey guitar work the Walkmen have made us love and then turns into an anthem on a greater scale than "Gila." The chorus is so catchy with its keyboard and then the second half of the song showcases the first taste of the live drums (this song would actually work as a Walkmen song). The second song "Silver Soul" is all sliding guitar and keyboard work, with "ahhing" vocals at first, but then the drums come in as well as some new fuzz guitar hooks. This song is five minutes, but you never want it to end. You are mesmerized by it and that feeling that it raises in your stomach. You think about people you love, ambitions you have, love that may be starting, love you are thankful for, love that may be illuding you, love that may be haunting you, the night outside and the promise of the holidays with heavy coats and people with presents in their bags and under their arms - you accept these images for their trappings and their virtues and accept them for what they are and you long for it to be as clear as it seems amid this washy, ghostly music.

The final song on the new album is called "Take Care." This song features a refrain of "I'll take care of you/If you ask me to," which fades out over the final minute. This is a song filled with snapping drums that no Beach House song has had yet. You listen to the refrain and of course it all makes sense: "I'll take care of you/If you ask me to." This is the best love lyric since Avey Tare's "I want to walk around with you," because it takes that sentiment even a step further in its nature of longing. We all do want you walk around with someone, but even further we want to take care of someone, but only if they ask us to. We're not allowed to do it on our own anymore. So maybe then, yes that mocking picture of Don Draper is a true statement for the end of this decade. And maybe then, yes, our music, our vision for our music is the longing that we feel inside, which it always was. However, our trends and magazine features have often distracted us from that, from what may be shiny or gimmicky, but if you make music that makes people long, and see the world around them, then you are onto the vision of your time.

Well, let's hope that made sense (UNC was holding of MSU on ESPN after all. NCAA Finals rematch anyone?).

Next, Jerry Seinfeld's MVP award from Season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm

Now, "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt."

James

I’m kissing Eve and everything smells like stale beer but tastes like wintergreen gum. It’s her lip balm. I open my eyes and see hers. We’re up against the little banister and counter by the door. Her small eyes. Chinese eyes I called them when we first met. If the thing in her stomach is a girl will she…

This place is cramped – the people by the door moving in and out with smoke and the smell of moist night – and I can hear the sounds of the hunting game behind me: the virtual deer and antelope noises. One of the new digital online jukeboxes is playing “Don’t Stop Believing” in the corner – an old terrible fan favorite. The overproduced piano, the high vocals, but I don’t really know anything about music. All I know is that this Brooklyn beer is heavy in my stomach and would leave my mouth tasting completely hoppy if it weren’t for the wintergreen residue on my lips.

“I still love this place,” Eve says. “I loved it when I first came home with you.”

“A town cornerstone.”

“Was this Ben’s favorite?”

“I’m not so sure. He and Uncle Connor did come here a lot.”

I see Liza and Maggie playing darts in front of us. They are both really bad. Maggie lines up on the one floorboard that moves perpendicular to the rest in order to mark the dart line. She aims and her right leg lifts up as she tosses. The dart hits the wall beneath the board and falls to the floor. She throws again. This dart sticks in the cork behind the boards. Third time is a charm and she hits the outer level of eighteen. She strides up to the dry erase board and makes a slash next to her side of the number. On top of her column her name has a frowny face above it while Liza’s has a smiley face.

“Nice shooting,” I say.

She grins back.

“Are you drunk?”

“It would take a few more than that.” She pulls the darts out of the board and hands them to Liza. Liza puts down her Budweiser on the ledge next to Eve. Maggie walks past her and as they pass each other something about the flash of the two different hues of their hair makes my stomach turn. I don’t know what the feeling is: nervousness, earnestness, what? I can only think of dad and Uncle Connor and how they must’ve looked years ago with their long wavy hair sitting at one of those window tables drunk. Now will Uncle Connor even show up tomorrow? What about dad? I can see him stumbling over the casket in the church and spilling whiskey on mom’s body. This is no folktale – she’s not coming back. Will Uncle Connor, though? Brothers. I see auburn and blonde. Sisters.

Maggie elbows my side. The way I used to sneak up on her and prod her sides with my hands, the younger brother picking on the older sister – she hated that.

“You see Jane over there?”

“No, I didn’t. She’s here?” I saw her on the way in. I can see her now. She has the same sort of round face that she always did. Still has the same curves too, bigger breasts than Eve. Eve doesn’t know.

“Who’s Jane?”

“Ah, just this girl we used to go to school with.”

“I think I saw Dan Christian over there too. Those Christian Brothers. You and Danny were always so close.”

It was behind the junior high where Gertz and Cicero beat him up. Tom was riding on his bike. I chased him away, pushed him onto the cement. It must’ve been hot because that day was scorching and I could feel it in the old white Chucks I was wearing then. Dan had fucked Gertz’s girl. I didn’t want to push Tom, but he was there at the wrong time. I take a long drink of my Brooklyn. Thick, heavy and cold. Does the dirt feel that way?

“Didn’t see him either.”

“Well he’s over by the bar too.”

“I should go over and say hello. I actually just saw Arielle Gregors slip in the back door. I’ll be right back, Eve.”

“Shouldn’t I come?”

“Nah, you’ll be bored,” I say. “I need to do it to be polite.” I pause. The timing feels awkward to me. There’s an Elton John song on the jukebox - he’s wailing about something. “My mom knows their moms, you know?”

“Get me another drink?” She rubs my elbow. Gin and tonic with lime.

“You got it.”

I start walking and can hear Maggie behind me.

“Our James was the popular sibling in high school. You knew that right Eve?”

“Well, I think so,” I hear Eve. And she says it in that sweet way she has of honestly trying to answer a stupid or sarcastic question like Maggie’s. She just wants to defend me.

I walk over to the bar. There’s a Mets game on one TV and a Yankees game on the other. The Mets are losing 2-1 to the Marlins in the sixth, while the Yanks are tied at two with the Twins in the third. There are Christmas lights up, draped in and around the liquor bottles on the shelf and the behind bar mirror. I can see myself, my face looks thin, my cheek bones sticking out. I fix my hair and hold up my bottle. Mike knows us. He gets me a beer.

“Buy back,” he mouths. The buy is a little elongated and the back is short. The way any good Long Islander would say it. I grab the beer by the neck and lean into the bar. He’s a nice guy – he’s been working behind the counter for awhile; he and his brother Tony. Their dad owned the bar. Mike’s got a stubbly beard - wearing a grey sweatshirt - and he’s slightly heavy. I lean and expect to be seen and before I know it, I feel a light hand on my shoulder. I turn my head back and it’s Arielle.

She’s still pretty as hell with shiny black hair and those eyes that are big and brownish – hazel. Her eyes are big but not too big.

“Well, its one of the famous Gregors girls.”

She laughs. “You sound like an ass.”

“You know I was always good at that.”

She gives me a hug and all of a sudden I feel the warmth of a good drunk. The kind I used to get in college when I knew a good night was coming. When the feeling hits and the voices around you swell and seem important maybe more important than they really are and the lighting seems like it is already part of your halycon memories yet still painfully alive and present. That’s dangerous the way I can recognize it. It’s probably the way dad…

“So, did you see Jane and Danny over there?”

“No, I hadn’t seen them.”

“You should come over and say hi.” Her voice lowers. “Jane told me about your mom. James, I’m really really sorry. She was the sweetest woman. You know how we all liked coming over to your house.”

She’s touching my shoulder and her finger grazes my neck. I felt a quick small rush of goosebumps. It has to be hormone impulse.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Its tough. I’m going to miss her.”

“It was sudden, huh?”

“Well my dad saw it coming. He tried to diagnose it. He thought it was a form of cancer and that she’d have longer. But I don’t know.”

Dad did see it coming. He tried to heal her. I don’t know the depths of the work he did, what they went through in the house during the past four months. I didn’t know it would happen like this. Liza must have some kind of idea. Dad on the phone in the summer. He knew that Uncle Connor could help him if he could only bother to call him up. They were brothers and it was a shame that that one disagreement could break them apart. But disagreeing over a death, especially in their profession will lead to life long silences and feuds – drinking problems. Lucky for dad he had his already in young age.

“That’s rough.” She hugs me again.

“Thanks.”

“She always did make the best brownies. It seemed like she’d always happen to be baking when we’d be over.”

“She liked to make it seem that way. That’s something she was good at.”

“Huh?”

“Appearances.”

“Oh.” She’s quiet. I know she’s uneasy at the situation. Does she have any delicacy or tact or is she just simply beautiful? Do I have tact?

Mom is in the kitchen except that the kitchen is separated from the rest of the house. It’s all black beyond the borders. There is no den and there is no side hallway to the garage. It seems like we are on a TV set somewhere in space. The kitchen smells sweet and like chocolate. I don’t smell any of the savory roasting meats that make my stomach growl. She’s in front of the oven wearing a long yellow dress. She turns around and the oven is open and red. She’s holding a metal cooking sheet.

“James,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“It’s OK, mom. I didn’t know I would be late.”

“I made brownies.”

I laugh. “Mom you didn’t have to.”

She bows her head and I notice that she’s wearing the apron with the food groups on it. The one I used to wear when she helped me make those Chinese dinners I tried to make for everyone or on Christmas when I’d try to make the pork loin.

“Yes, I did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did your wife like my apron.”

“I think so, mom.”

She pulls out a cake knife and cuts into the pan. Steam rises up from the cuts she makes in the hot brownies. It smells like I’m ten.

“Everything goes on, James.”

“What do you mean?”

“Light, colors, sound. It comes from all different places.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Have a brownie”

And I take a bite. The kitchen fills with yellows and whites. The taste in my mouth is rich and it is hard work chewing through the brownies and their entire flavor. Now there are thick whisps of steam and swirling around my mother the kitchen is filling and moving away from me.

“Only The Good Die Young” is on the jukebox now. Who would’ve thought? I take a drink and look over at Eve talking to Maggie. She’s looking at me, she must’ve been for a little bit. I hold my finger up and roll my eyes to pretend like I’m bored. But I’m not bored, it feels good to be recognized and remembered. I can remember my old excitements. Now I’m looking at Dan Christian. I never hit him, but I never really apologized anyway.

“I’m sorry about what happened between you and Gertz, Dan,” I say to him.

He frowns and takes a drink of his pint. “I never held it against you, O’Donnell. Just that dumb polock.”

I take a drink too. It’ll be like a silent agreement, even though I don’t agree. But everything else seems about right – the voices, the accents, the music, and the taste.

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