Beach House – Bloom
Teen Dream, the 2010 release from Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House, saw their rich, intimate world step out of the bedroom and into the park. Things hadn’t changed a substantial amount, but the record felt expansive enough to broaden the terms of their sound. Fourth album Bloom continues in this vein to the point that I can’t help but think of late 80s Depeche Mode. Don’t fret, it’s still built on shimmering guitars, organs, vintage drum machines and Victoria Legrand’s earthy vocals, and you won’t find a lyric carrying the same kind of raw, pulsing, quivering genius as Depeche Mode’s “And when I squinted the world seemed rose-tinted,” but Beach House have made their relatively light instrumentation relatively arena-sized.
The little melodic sidesteps that made Legrand’s vocals mesmerising are still intact. On the bridge of opener ‘Myth’ the mid-pace march of the verse kicks into action while a handful of Alex Scally’s sharp and sparkly guitar chords underscore Legrand’s deliberate and emotive emphasis on certain words. It’s the first time Bloom fills its arena boots.
And that promise is realised nowhere better than fucking gargantuan second single ‘Lazuli’. A solitary, plinking, music-box arpeggio opens the track followed by a simple beat and pad synth, before a massive wave of cymbal washes, synth and vocals swallow the whole thing up. In a lot of ways it’s the same old Beach House, and not even the best of the bunch, but bigger. A lot of the songs work on this principle of familiar sounds and instruments weaving in and out of the production, sometimes larger-than-life. The sound is sharper than on earlier albums, but the songwriting similar.
On that note, people are bound to piss and moan about a perceived lack of progression on Bloom in a way that they wouldn’t if Beach House were an acoustic guitar singer-songwriter act. In 2006 they wrote organ, guitar and drum machine tracks about love and fleeting moments and in 2012 it’s a similar story. I don’t know if “grower” is really the word, but it might take a few listens to iron out any concerns about Beach House always painting from the same palette.
Furthermore it’s easy to miss the time it was like you were eavesdropping on a private exchange rather than watching indie rock giants. It has nothing to do with their popularity after Teen Dream came out, rather it’s that part of their magic depended on the feeling no one else (maybe someone) was there with the characters. It’s difficult to sustain that level of intimacy when your whole production style is Music for the Masses.
Legrand’s lyrics still cover a vast array of emotions through lightly decorated encounters and scenarios. Sometimes the lack of detail combined with the bigger sound gives the subject too much of a general focus, like the characters feel a lot about something but the details are blurry. This has always worked for Beach House but it’s easier for specific details to get washed away than it was on earlier records in Bloom’s bigger playground. It’s the thing about being alone in a crowded place. It means the record is harder pressed to come up with moments as achingly intimate and beautiful as Devotion’s closer ‘Home Again’ or ‘Tokyo Witch’ from their debut.
Concerns about whether the bigger production style detracts from album aside, Bloom sits pretty with the band’s previous records track-for-track. Midway through the album they deliver ‘The Hours’, a gorgeous little vignette about waiting to see the object of your desire and the insecurity of fearing that affection will not be returned. It’s thematically similar territory to The Cure’s ‘Close to Me’ and a reminder of how well Legrand does innocence and youthful fear despite her voice having the depth and richness of a woman, not a girl. ‘Irene’ has a nice combination of keys and drums that gives the effect of a roller-coaster in slow motion and the confession-as-a-wish refrain of ‘Troublemaker’ is touching.
Proper intimacy is difficult to get in a pop record and for all my complaints that Beach House and Devotion were better conduits for tenderness Bloom is well-crafted and often lovely. A lot of the songs are very good and the fact that they have written three albums of similar ones is a bit of a moot point – slating Beach House for not writing an experimental record is like complaining that your chair doesn’t taste like lobster. But it is difficult to ignore that Bloom, as much as there is to admire and absorb, denies the same immediate wash of awe that its predecessors enjoyed through its reliance on their well-established virtues. How much that detracts from the album itself is difficult to quantify. Is the fourth beautiful person to walk into a room any less beautiful because they’re standing next to three others?