Beach House has never been the band to thrust conversion by force at anyone.
Beach House’s sound has remained uniform enough during the Baltimore dream pop outfit’s decade-plus run that Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally could have easily kept their mouths shut and issued this compilation as an entirely new record. Twelve of the tracks here have previously been issued with two newly unearthed high rollers (“Chariot” and “Baseball Diamond”) coming from the vaults via sessions for Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars. If you’re a meticulous collector/follower of the duo’s work, you know where each of these numbers first appeared and (most likely) the reason(s) it didn’t fit with other material being tracked at the time.
There are some corkers: “Equal Mind,” a gorgeous slice of sonic seduction that served as the B-side to 2012’s “Lazuli.” Legrand gives one of her all-time great performances and if the music summons memories of late summer evenings spent between the sea and the sand, so be it. It’s an exquisite find, a piece that should have garnered more attention and (arguably) found a proper home sooner. “Play the Game,” a Queen cover given the full Beach House treatment for 2009’s superb Dark Was the Night compilation, is everything you’d hope for: understated, echo-laden, heavy on atmosphere and light distractions. “The Arrangement” stands as another great find, the duo taking a more dramatic turn than usual and sounding positively uplifting.
Even on the lesser tracks, including the almost-there “I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun” or the single rendition of “Used to Be” have their charms, spotlighting the pair’s penchant for melding the happy with the sad, the high-tech with the organic. “Baseball Diamond,” on the other hand, is coffee house compilation fodder, deeply unobtrusive and ultimately unmemorable. “Rain in Numbers” is like one of those strange Prince B-sides that you listen to more for the utter strangeness than for any sort of aesthetic reward. It sounds like an iPhone demo that the pair threw together at 3am after a public radio fundraiser on a rainy night in some DC suburb. It’s cool for curiosity seekers but adds nothing to the wider conversation. The aptly named cough syrup remix of “10 Mile Stereo” is equally ephemeral.
The takeaway here is that this is a predictable stopgap collection that provides glimpses of both what was and what might have been. Such collections can occasionally rise to greatness (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had a whole box of nuggets titled B-Sides and Rarities that rivaled anything in the proper discography), though more frequently they live up to their reputation. This one is no different, but it’s still worth giving a cautious recommendation. If you’re already a fan, having all the goodies in one place won’t hurt; if you’re fringe fan this might give you something to talk about, some wave of considering Beach House’s deeper tendencies.
Beach House has never been the band to thrust conversion by force at anyone. B-Sides and Rarities reminds us that’s how this outfit rolls and, really, it’s hard to argue with such a cohesive sound built on dynamics of hot and cold rather than loud and soft.