May 16, 2012 3 comments
The phrase “Dream Pop” conjures imagery of barely-engaged instrumentalists, sleepwalking their way through a reverb-laden, melody-driven tune, with an emphasis on atmosphere. And, for a subgenre so predicated on large sound, the personalities involved often land on the more tepid side when it comes to performance presentation. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally aren’t exactly bucking that trend, but their progression does speak volumes. Beach House has a very specific skill set and Bloom, the duo’s fourth, and probably most stylistically consistent release, is probably the premier realization of exactly what these two can accomplish in an album format. Beach House is that band that you’ve always wanted to praise to your friends, but couldn’t find an accessible entryway to reference. Bloom is not only that entryway, it also stands as verification for everything that’s preceded it.
As hyperbolic and ceremonial as that assessment may come off as, the music leads to nothing less. 2010’s Teen Dream, a proverbial indie gem, set the stage for a band that was looking for more than the limitations of their genre would allow. Dancing around labels like “chillwave” and “noise pop”, BH blindsided fans and critics alike with left-field song structure (“10 Mile Stereo”), linear progression (“Zebra”), and downright gorgeous composition (“Walk in the Park”). Bloom has taken all of this, channeled it through the filter of perspective, wrung it through the studio meat grinder (via engineering wunderkind Chris Coady), honed in on the where the emotion comes from, and delivered on the binary dynamic of their interplay. The one-two opening punch of “Myth” and “Wild” may be a bit of misdirection on Beach House’s behalf — both tracks, on first listen, come off as somewhat unassuming, mid-tempo introductions. But, the stage is set upon further examination, and the duo’s modus operandi, or secret weapon, if you will, becomes clear: Hidden depth.
In multiple aspects, Bloom plays like one hour-long ambient track, weaving aimlessly through various emotional and instrumental themes. “Other People” gives us “punk ballad Beach House”, with an exasperated Legrand lamenting “other people want to keep you down” over Scally’s sullen guitar plucks. It’s genuine, but not out of place surrounded by the especially dreamy “Lazuli” and the shot of testosterone in “The Hours”. A lot of these tracks don’t exactly grow as much as ease into their sweet spot. What Beach House has has done well, historically, is accentuate the more flowery aspects of their songs, while burying the muscle that drives them. This is no clearer then on the masterfully crafted “Wishes”, which can stand as the epitome of ‘hidden depth’, stuffing what can be interpreted as anything from horns to strings to muffled Casio synths into the frame of the chorus. There’s a youthfulness to much of the music here that sometimes veils the intricacies of their composition.
As far as flaws go, Bloom‘s are essentially readymade and built-in. As previously noted, the album flows a lot like one, multi-movement song. While this is beneficial to conventional continuity, much of the nuances that contribute to the albums depth can’t really shine beyond the familiar tone of the songs. Many of the tracks start and end in the same fashion, demanding patience, more than anything, from the listener. The back half of the album is certainly tethered song-by-song, from the ethereal “New Year” to the aforementioned “Wishes”; Bloom doesn’t exactly race toward its finale. But, what a finale it is! The nearly 17 minute closer (including the hidden track) “Irene” begins with some hypnotic, Panda Bear-reminiscent guitars that form the foundation for the duration of the track. Then, halfway through, the vocals and synths drop out, and the piano, *ahem*, blooms to crescendo, giving way to one of the most triumphant and climactic conclusions in their catalog. Well worth any amount of prior tedium.
As a fan, Beach House gives you everything you’ve known they could accomplish in one, succinct package. And, as of this point in time, I can confidently say that every single BH album has gotten incrementally better since their 2006 self-titled debut. Though the connotation isn’t necessarily negative, I don’t see Legrand and Scally as “dream pop” artists anymore. There’s an organic, almost plenary disposition to their sound now. So, while they may still be experimenting on the dreamier side of the spectrum, there’s a clear sense of tangible reality. And Bloom is as lucid as dreams get.