Beach House, Bloom
Sometimes the most frustrating and challenging part of being a band is being asked to make the same record twice. It’s frustrating because artists expect themselves to move forward. It’s challenging because their fans are their livelihood.
I think what some bands don’t realize, however, is that when their fans always seem to be begging them to write a record like before, they aren’t asking them to remake it. They’re asking them to extend the experience they felt on that record. It means accepting an identity as a band and making small, lovely change, not following along the same steps on the same path. I think Beach House understands that—and that’s what their fourth LP, Bloom, represents.
The duo from Baltimore, Maryland, which formed in 2004, has become a staple of the dream-pop genre, mixing elements of airy synthesizers and guitars beneath Victoria Legrand’s icy vocals. Legrand, the niece of an iconic French composer, is the foil to guitarist and keyboardist Alex Scally’s lush instrumentation. She can be jarring and almost borders on the unlikeable, but the tension between the two has been one of the reasons Beach House has succeeded. It’s acted as a constant on all the band’s records, but on Bloom the tension seems lax, exchanged with better-crafted songs and clearer direction in the songwriting. The bubbly “Lazuli” and the innocent-sounding “Myth” showcase a band that has approached its writing more aggressively. On Bloom, there is less gazing and more playing.
The boldness exhibited by the band isn’t an in-your-face type. In fact, some may not call it bold at all. But on songs like the beautiful “Wild,” a song that pays homage to late '80s heat, it’s obvious that Bloom was a record written by a band that knew fiddling with a few knobs on the Nord and buying a few different guitar pedals might make a record sound fresh without losing the band’s familiar washy luster. Indeed, tracks like “New Year,” which has Legrand reaching her highest register, and “The Hours,” a song with the most obvious and memorable chorus on the record, shows a band slowly adding to its sound, not tearing down and rebuilding.
As a duo, the band’s overall sound is impressive. Full of washed-out, lush instrumentation (see “Other People” and the melodically-droning closer “Irene”), Bloom will be a great record to play sitting on your porch in the waning of afternoon. However, the record’s biggest downfall comes in its top-heaviness. After the first five or six tracks, the songs tend to run into each other.
Still, some may welcome the lackadaisical feeling of listening to a Beach House record. The listenability of it is more than enough to make it enjoyable, if not demanding repeated listens. I find Bloom to be the same, especially with songs like “On The Sea,” a slow-driven ballad that sounds like the background music to a '50s home movie of a family visiting the beach.
The distinction that needs to be made with Bloom is the difference between “same” and “similar.” There is no question the band seems to work off a formula, something like “keep the audience interested, but just enough not to disinterest them.” In other words, don’t alienate them. The pluses of a record like Bloom far outweigh the minuses, allowing the band to outdo themselves yet again. But if you’ve listened to Devotion or Teen Dream, you probably already knew that.
Christopher Lehberger is a writer living in Pittsburgh. He likes music, literature and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He blogs at www.thezeitgeistofdominiquefrancon.blogspot.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @chrislehberger.