Beach House pull off a funny trick on fourth album Bloom. At first glance, it seems exactly what a listener should expect from the Baltimore duo six years after the release of their debut — melancholy melodies, lilting trickles of guitar, the warm buzz of organ, and the emotionally charged, smoky vocals of Victoria Legrand. It’s Beach House, alright, but an unexpected surprise occurs following about eight minutes of silence tacked on at the end of final track “Irene.” A hidden song begins at the 13:20 mark, which isn’t necessarily novel unless you didn’t live through the ’90s, but what stands out is the sound of the track itself, gloomily romantic yet barely there, built on minimal elements, a paper-thin drum machine beat and a charmingly fuzzy home-recorded sound that could have been pulled straight from their first record. If anyone needed concrete evidence of Beach House’s progression over the years, it’s all there in track ten.
Gradual progression doesn’t often get the kind of real-time recognition that acts of more radical reinvention would, but for Beach House, maturity and evolution is a slow and steady game, albeit one that pays dividends. Each new album for the band represents a new stage of expansion and enhancement, with subtle variations and additions layered on top of their simple, emotional core. It’s that core that remains constant. Legrand and partner Alex Scally, as the only two permanent members of the band, create a kind of musical magic that has only strengthened over time. It’s gotten bigger, shinier, even prettier, but the beautifully sad quality they’ve sharply honed for more than half a decade is such a part of their identity, to extract it would effectively remove that which makes them uniquely Beach House.
Fittingly, Bloom is as beautifully sad as ever. While the duo’s debut and sophomore album Devotion had a hazy, red-wine stained last-night-with-a-companion feel, the atmosphere of Bloom is that of lonely sunsets and rainy weekends. It’s brighter, and not as explicitly intimate, but Legrand’s lyrics still deal heavily in regrets, missed opportunities and wounds that still need some time to heal. There’s a slight touch of hope in her voice as she sings “All I wanted comes in colors” on “New Year,” but that’s quickly dashed with the other half of the couplet, “…vanish everyday.” Her vulnerability is all the more palpable in “The Hours,” which, despite the group’s dreamy demeanor, reveals nothing but heartbreak in its chorus: “Frightened eyes/ looking back at me/ change your mind/ don’t leave without me.” Yet, in spite of much of the sorrow that follows, it’s the first track, the outstanding “Myth,” which finds Legrand acknowledging a need to move on (“Can’t keep holding on/ to what is dead and gone“).
If the teardrop volume is comparable to that of Beach House’s other albums, they’re being kept in a much more luxurious vessel this time around. It’s a step forward from 2010′s Teen Dream, rather than a leap, but the subtleties sometimes make all the difference. The juxtaposition of buzzing synth and guitar riffs on “Wild” makes a wonderfully dense sonic expanse, while the layered live drums over programmed beats only serve to widen that frontier. There’s a similar richness to “Lazuli,” yet the focal point is a twinkling synth pattern of eighth notes that, while somewhat primitive in execution, only enhances the lush, high fidelity arrangement that surrounds it. And “The Hours,” whose dense multi-tracked strata give the illusion of having more distortion than it actually does, is the closest that Beach House has ever come to a traditional rock song.
It’s probably a given that just about everyone who is familiar with Beach House has already solidified their opinion on the band. Yet, at this stage, I find it inconceivable that anyone can hold a negative view of a group who maintains such a singular commitment to beauty. For all their disciplined consistency, however, Beach House still has plenty of surprises to reveal, the biggest of which is just how far they’ve come.
Stream: Beach House – “Myth”