“7,” the fittingly-titled seventh and latest album by Baltimore-based duo Beach House, perfectly scores a mid-afternoon northbound drive to Sherwood Gardens. That’s where members and multi-instrumentalists Victoria Legrand, who sings lead, and Alex Scally suggested we meet on the last day of May.
In 11 days from then, they’ll take the Hippodrome Theatre stage for their first hometown club show in six years . The former vaudeville and movie theater, with its brick and terra cotta facade and grandiose interior, offers an ideal setting for the ethereal dream pop sound they’ve refined in the 15 years since their founding in Baltimore’s independent music scene.
Their cinematic soundscapes similarly compliment the ride through the Guilford neighborhood, where regal 20th century revival homes and elegant trees line narrow roads leading to Sherwood Gardens. The mansions, like “7” stand-outs “Drunk in LA” and “Girl of the Year,” evoke a glamorous past, both dependent on and doomed by its impermanence.
“The feeling's here, the pattern caught in a falling tear, and in the waves, one goes and the other one knows,” Legrand sings in her signature melancholic contralto on the latter song.
The band recognizes the centrality of “glamour” in a statement on the 2018 record. They write that both of the aforementioned songs take inspiration from “the twisted double edge of glamour, with its perils and perfect moments.” This connects with the broader “discussions surrounding women’s issues,” and "ruminations on the roles, pressures and conditions that our society places on women," that they say influenced “7.”
When the pair meditated on the idea, while surrounded by Sherwood Gardens’ rolling manicured grounds, they found it both inspirational and unrelatable.
“There’re certain things associated with glamour that I wholeheartedly reject,” Scally said. “I believe in modesty, not taking things for granted, staying connected to every aspect of our operation...But then there are some things that fall under the category that we do take part in: we play shows, spend a lot of time on the visual side of things, travel a lot for tour, but we don’t travel first class.”
Legrand, the French-born niece of composer Michele and soprano Christiane Legrand, subsequently consulted several online dictionaries that mention “enchantment” as connected to early definitions of glamour. She distinguished between these and a newer, more “grotesque” and ostentatious form.
“One of my ideal eras of glamour would be Paris in the 1920s, then the 70s — Studio 54, David Bowie, Lou Reed, to me, that’s a glamorous person,” she said. “My version of ‘glamour’ is eye make-up that isn’t perfect, or a person who maybe hasn’t showered in two days but their hair is humongous. We’re children of that era, not this era, of the way you just throw money and everybody’s on their knees, crawling after you.”
Legrand and Baltimore native Scally, who both exude tremendous cool on- and off-stage, instead embrace a more self-contained approach to art that has only grown more resolute since they released their first self-titled album in 2006. For instance, they created “7” independent from outside forces, save for some production by Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember and mixer Alan Moulder. (The duo is on Sub Pop.) They recorded much of the album between their home studio in Baltimore and Carriage House in Stamford, Connecticut — all with an eye towards an efficiency that destroyed many barriers, both self- and outsider-imposed, to freedom and experimentation.
“Wasting time and money became two things that we were no longer interested in,” Legrand said. “How efficient we became and how much we recorded ourselves saved so much time in the studio so that we actually, finally, got to do the experimenting that we’ve always wanted to do.
“The more we can get away from studios that cost so much and producers that are gatekeepers to making records, the happier we are,” Scally said.
This optimized technique reflects a DIY spirit that pervades much of Baltimore’s creative culture, to which the band remains deeply connected. To them, the June 11 show, with opening sets from Baltimore artists Dan Deacon and Future Islands bassist William Cashion, definitely feels like a homecoming. While they caution against coming in with expectations, they know that this show will be different.
“We have a setlist creator on our website, and every show is different because of that, so we go and see what everybody’s asking you to play, and it’ll probably be longer than the normal set because it’s Baltimore, and when are we ever going to be here again?” Scally said. “We really want it to be a special show, because we haven’t done a club show here in six years. This is where we live! There’s a lot of pride.”