altimore is as musically diverse as anywhere else, but in 2008, indie rockers associate the city with colorful, energetic music, from the expatriated Animal Collective to Dan Deacon's Wham City crew. The music of Beach House, the Baltimore-based duo of multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally and vocalist/organist Victoria Legrand, is a shadow narrative running parallel to this trend: Their delicate, lovelorn pop comes in the form of deathly waltzes and dark pastoral dirges on which Legrand sings about desire, loss, and dreams as if telling a ghost story, splitting the difference between lovely and creepy.
For pristine pop, Beach House's self-titled 2006 debut was awfully raw: Legrand downplayed her classical piano and voice training in a humble negation of virtuosity. The organs sounded like something thick and coarse being pulled through a small, jagged opening; chord structures were simply suggestions; imperfections were kept intact. That balance of beauty and imprecision made inspired songs like "Saltwater", "Tokyo Witch", "Apple Orchard", and "Master of None" easy to fall in love with.
The duo's songwriting hasn't fundamentally changed on Devotion; they've simply cleaned up their act. These are crisper, brighter, bolder songs, retaining Beach House's sense of elegant decay while sweeping up the debris. "Gila" is a funeral on a sunny day; its shimmering organs are controlled, never bleeding chaotically as they did on the debut, and are complemented by frilly but steadfast guitar. "Turtle Island" reaffirms Beach House's preference for simple, skeletal percussion, but its dense melody is a marked advancement. The result of this pre-spring cleaning is that Devotion lacks some of the immediate highs of the first album-- you no longer get the sense of rooting for an embattled underdog-- but winds up consistently stronger.