This album review was originally written for Beat magazine, and published in print and online, where it was featured as 'Album of the Week.' It is reproduced here in its entirety
Beach House - Bloom (Sub Pop, 2012)
There’s a brutally efficient way to summarise the Baltimore duo’s fourth LP, and while labelling it as Teen Dream 2 is perhaps not an unsurprising summary, it unfairly underlines a ‘if it ain’t broke’ mentality that betrays Beach House’s characteristically organic craftsmanship.
Naturally Bloom’s predecessor was the pair’s breakthrough album, critics and fans alike flocking to the most accessible evocation of their gently nostalgic dream pop yet, besotted by its beauty and brilliance. Fashioning a sequel that matches its slow-burn appeal, Bloom is more of a casual extension of Teen Dream’s successes than a daring artistic leap. But again, that takes nothing away from its haunting effect and unfussy vividness.
Just as Teen Dream was an appropriate title for a record that employed plaintive intimacy to score adolescent star-gazing; so too is Bloom a stylistic moniker. An album that fittingly and gradually blossoms with colour, its organic details flourishing with each subsequent spin, an album that reveals more of itself over time, its gentle hooks sinking deeper with each listen.
Opening with a characteristically strong number, 'Myth' lays Beach House’s modest toolbox out on the table: whitewashed keys, waifish guitar arpeggios, spartan drum patterns and – of course – Victoria Legrand’s majestically flawed yet distinctive singing. Her androgynous croon hovering between the husky drone of an adolescent boy while retaining the graceful chanteuse depth of her natural French breeding.
Most of the album relies on similar tools, but there’s a grander sweep to their arrangements now that suggests the pair of Legrand and accomplice Alex Scally are comfortable to move beyond the bedroom to embrace their status in the indie big leagues. Cascading melodies are doubled, the synths laid thicker and the guitars, in particular, no longer solely ring and tremble. 'Wild' and 'Wishes' recall '80s guitar fashions, plucking reverbed notes or scraping into a stratospheric tremolo; while on the gentle bob of 'On The Sea' their slow-dive resembles a string section.
There’s a darker tone than previous efforts too, their mystery transformed into a nocturnal melancholy on 'Troublemaker', or the dramatic shift in 'Lazuli’s emotive coda; Legrand lamenting "Like no other, you can’t be replaced."
Thankfully, these subtle new emphases are introduced without sacrificing the lucid haze that defines Beach House’s sound. Once again, the pair forgoing typical verse/bridge/chorus structure in favour of a far more subtle approach than simply growing bigger, lusher and louder.
It’s in the masterful combination of deliberately outdated elements – the dinky Casiotone melody that opens 'Lazuli,' the clunky beats beneath 'The Hours' – deceptively complex components built into shimmering textures that result in an effect best described as impressionistic.
Which leads us to the main criticism of Bloom – it’s almost too much of a good thing.
Its pace never moves beyond a steady metronomic nod, not once faltering beyond the comfortable sweet spot between lilting slumber and gentle nod. After ten tracks, the songs seem to bleed into a pleasing blur. But it could just as easily be taken as treading the fine line between brilliant cohesion and being ‘too samey.’
This hazy wash has always been Beach House’s consistent style, ever since their 2006 debut, but to detractors this tremulous wash may seem dull, or at worst tedious. But few complained that Rembrandt’s watercolour style was ‘formulaic.’ Here, Beach House have once again perfected their meticulous mix of elements.
The closing seven-minutes of 'Irene' best demonstrates their triumph. A soothing upward movement of familiar chordal shifts, before the half-way drops it all away to the relentless hammering of a single note. Almost childishly monotonous in its simplicity, but it soon informs a gilded sweep into a lush, shimmering cadence. A spine-chilling moment that caps an album rife with them, to the defiant refrain of “it’s a strange paradise,” a phrase that surreptitiously describes the record in general.
Does Bloom articulate anything new about Beach House’s sound world? No, but it is perhaps the most delightfully satisfying expression of their music yet, and could well be dream pop’s new definitive gesture.
Beach House - Myth