Beach House: Bloom
Beach House established a sound for itself comparable to no other with its third and then best album, Teen Dream (2010). The Baltimore duo, made up of Victoria Legrand (vocals and keyboard) and Alex Scally (guitar), landed on a gloriously outlandish sound in their last album that, for its ethereal quality, has since filed the band under “dream-pop”, solidifying the sound the band was fumbling in its earlier, less audacious efforts. Combining the better traits of these, Teen Dream not only fulfilled but also superseded the collective promise of Beach House (2006) and Devotion (2008), to settle on a winning formula: a synth drum-beat overridden with choppy keyboard chords (often swapped for fluid, mystical organ) and a rippling sea of guitar riffs, replete with undulating oohs and aahs. Teen Dream thus saw Beach House transform its offbeat alternative timbre to a grander, sumptuous sonic consistency, one that up until now has defined the band and the extent of its creative potential. Albums as great as Teen Dream often elicit greater expectation. But with follow-up, Bloom, such expectations are met, and then some; it’s clear that Beach House didn’t peak with Teen Dream, but rather planted the seed for an even more magnificent sound to flourish and grow.
Bloom opens alternating a bobbing synth beat with the clank of a cowbell in “Myth”. Out of this noise, a soft siren of keyboard and guitar surfaces, ‘drifting in and out’, as Legrand will soon sing, of a nascent melody. Travelling, the music makes a turn after Legrand pleas, ‘help me to make it, help me to make it’, perhaps compelling us to make the journey with her – or is Legrand calling on the music, her voice an eloquent wand instructing its magic, to make itself go to wherever she needs it to? As directed by Legrand’s spellbinding voice, the tune turns back on itself and takes speed, as though running to romantically pursue the lover it just lost. A quick crash of drum, together with a diving strum of guitar land the music to a new place for Legrand to sing louder, with more feeling, ‘found yourself in a new direction’, leading us off the path we thought we were on, straying just off course to discover an unfamiliar, better place in the music. In its polyphonic meandering, Bloom’s opening track is indicative of the record as a whole; a multipart sonic voyage, unfurling in dreamy cascades of guitar and keyboard to a swelling pop-beat: one rolling, pulpy melody constantly budding out of itself and into something else.
“Lazuli”, the latest release to come off the album, is a perfect example. The song starts humbly with pert bursts of bubblegummy, video-game phonics, carried throughout the song in more mature variations. As a layer of steady synth heats up, Legrand’s voice produces another layer with a pulsing refrain of huh-huh-huh-huhs, sung with the impetus of a choir. Erstwhile, as a feeble guitar line gathers momentum to fill out the noise – like strokes of paint populating a canvas – Legrand repeatedly chants over the top, ‘like no other you can’t be replaced’. “Lazuli” might best soundtrack the fruition of an evergreen Garden of Eden, as it begins with a line of simple pop – as though at the very beginning – to end a lush savanna of sound; a carefully constructed dream-pop paradise. Another kind of paradise is sought in “Other People”, which sounds as though it breezed through the 1960s with its romantic guitar riffs and pop standard phrasing. It’s also as close as Beach House may ever get to a ballad – or a Gwen Stefani song (if you listen hard, or with my ears, it sounds a bit like “Cool”). Elsewhere on the album, the lyrics of “Troublemaker” share some of the romance of “Other People”: ‘someday out of the blue, it will find you’, Legrand promises herself, yearning for a reminder of ‘someone like you’. Listening to Bloom, each track cradles its own sense of longing, reaching out in its music and lyrics for something larger and more beautiful – and in the act of doing so, becoming both. As though forever moving, each track on Bloom bleeds effortlessly into the next so that there are not 10 stand-alone songs on the album but instead a gorgeous, 58-minute symphony. This is not to discredit the album’s material as same, but rather to attribute its careful composition on Legrand and Scally’s part as masters of sound that after a while seems to make itself – music that plays as though nature intended it, guided in just the right way by its dreamy auteurs. A natural progression can thus be traced throughout Bloom, where each track is distinct in sound but all the while part of a larger, substantial theme – like different flowers leaning towards the same sun.
The most defining two songs on the album are its closer, “Irene” and “Wherever You Go”, the hidden track that rests on the back of it. Beach House has always played music as though it had all the time in the world – these two beautiful, slow-tumbling melodies with a six-minute silence betwixt them, are markers of that timekeeping. The first song, “Irene” is a lovely, burgeoning masterpiece. As the last track of the album, it carries all that has come before it – it is greater, a symphony. Opening with a gentle crush of drum and stagnant keyboard, a buffering synth freights a surging guitar line, accumulating to a gruff climax of tousled guitar and keyboard chords, rocking together in unison. Just as this tension nears static, Legrand swoops in, a saviour to the sound. ‘It’s a strange paradise’, she sings in somnambulant sweeps, atop an increasing melody, somehow detached from the landscape of the music yet still a fundamental part of it before dissolving with everything else, into impenetrable silence. The long silence acts as a buffer for the listener, a crisp retreat from the sound (‘momentary bliss’) so that when we return to it afresh, in the hidden track, it’s as though awakening from deep sleep. Out of the debris of “Irene”, a waning guitar plays heavy and thick in “Wherever You Go”, Legrand’s voice re-emerging somewhere in the fog with a lullaby as she sings the words of the song’s title, suppler this time, near vacant. Like remembering the latent content of a dream, the melody recalls what we’ve just heard so that ‘wherever you go’ is a kind of inverse of ‘strange paradise’; the former could easily be sung underneath the latter, as on “Lazuli” where ‘there’s nothing like Lapis Lazuli’ undertones ‘like no other, you can’t be replaced’.
Fading out, “Wherever You Go” finally dips back into a melody most musicians would have rounded off with a brief last note. But Beach House isn’t like any other band (‘like no other, you can’t be replaced’), instead concluding only with the sense of an ending. Curling back on itself, the music envelopes all the sounds of Bloom as a whole in its final moments; a lively, bountiful ‘strange paradise’ culminating in pretty apocalypse. The end of Bloom prompts its listener to ask only, ‘what comes after this?’ – to which Legrand provides the answer in “Myth”: ‘momentary bliss’.