With grace and skill, Beach House tend to hide the evidence of the labor put into making their albums. Traces of writing, recording, mixing, and sequencing fade in service of a holistic, cinematic experience. You don’t see the edges because Beach House wants you to feel like you’re inside of them. But on their first collection of non-album tracks, B-Sides and Rarities, the Baltimore duo expose the tight weave of their work.
It’s a testament to the band’s consistency that B-Sides and Rarities plays nearly as smoothly as a proper Beach House album, even though one of these tracks—scattered non-chronologically through an hourlong playtime—is more than a decade old. All but two songs on the compilation have been released in one form or another; the previously unheard tracks, “Chariot” and “Baseball Diamond,” are not deep cuts off a long-forgotten cutting room floor but outtakes from the band’s most recent pair of albums, 2015’s Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Although those albums were released within months of each other, Beach House insisted that the latter wasn’t a footnote to the former, but a fully realized project in its own right. Here, then, are the footnotes: two songs that retain all the band’s evanescent loveliness, but don’t quite reach the euphoria of Depression Cherry’s “Sparks” or Lucky Stars’ “Somewhere Tonight.” Still, “Baseball Diamond” boasts one of Victoria Legrand’s most compelling vocal performances in years, a whisper poured through a raspy filter. She sings, “I want you to win,” and the way she crinkles the last syllable breaks open a fissure of pathos in her typically stoic alto. It’s one of the most moving dramas set on a baseball field since Rilo Kiley’s 2002 slugger “My Slumbering Heart.”
The band’s deeper listeners will likely recognize most of the 12 previously released tracks included on B-Sides and Rarities; even casual fans should know plenty of these songs. There’s an early single mix of Teen Dream’s “Used to Be”; recorded two years before the rest of the album came out, this version quickens the tempo and dampens the treble, but doesn’t quite match the scope of the glossier, fuller album take. Though it’s not quite a demo, the crunchy 2008 mix of “Used to Be” opens a porthole into Beach House’s long, slow creative process. It also exposes the delicacy of their magic: Tinker with just a few sliders, and their spell dissipates.
Two refurbished cuts from Beach House’s 2010 iTunes Session EP also indicate the band’s strength lies more in the processing of their songs than in the bare writing of them. “White Moon” and “Norway,” anemic on the original session recording, get fleshed out with extra effects and tweaked levels. “Norway” in particular takes on an especially narcotic quality compared to both the session take and the album version; gone are the bright arpeggios, replaced with a more intermittent lurch from guitarist Alex Scally.
Also collected on B-Sides are contributions to various compilations, like “Saturn Song” from 2014’s The Space Project (featuring samples recorded in actual space) and a cover of Queen’s “Play the Game” from 2009’s Red Hot charity album Dark Was the Night. Both fit neatly alongside the rest of Beach House’s miscellany; the latter especially highlights how indebted the band is not just to dream-pop giants like the frequently cited Cocteau Twins, but to classic experimental pop as a whole. Legrand’s voice slides frictionlessly up Freddie Mercury’s octave swoops, and even his lyrics sound like a natural addition to Beach House’s myriad musings on the complexities of love.
Though the majority of B-Sides and Rarities can be easily found by those inclined to find it (the piano sketch “Rain in Numbers” is a hidden track at the end of Beach House’s self-titled debut, making it not much of a B-side or a rarity), the impulse to gather up loose ends into a cohesive package feels like a solid effort at future-proofing recordings peripheral to the band’s primary discography. Many of these songs date to the era of mp3 blogs, when fans meticulously saved their libraries to their hard drives. More listeners rely on streaming now, and while many tracks here could already be streamed officially, some were only previously online due to unauthorized YouTube uploads, whose longevity is always uncertain. Beach House claim their odds and ends under an authoritative title here, improving the already great odds they’ll be around for generations.