Review: Beach House ‘Bloom’

Release date: May 15, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Following up a breakthrough record is a rather difficult task. Some bands like The La’s and My Bloody Valentine simply didn’t. For years, Baltimore duo Beach House didn’t have to worry so much about grand expectations. Their first two albums “Beach House” and “Devotion” were critics’ choices but were not well known outside their market. Sounding as if conceived in a hazey fog with sounds emerging as though from nature, those two albums never gave off  the air of being the belabored work of two people writing and recording songs in a studio. That may have been the point, but its inability to rise out of the aesthetic choice kept the group from sprouting outward.

2010’s “Teen Dream” found Beach House fully realizing the capabilities of their sound. While not a grand departure, it took their key elements — Victoria Legrand’s softly buzzing keyboards and husky voice and Alex Scally’s liquid guitar melodies — to a majestic climax of heavenly tones. The songs stood out. While sounding great as a unified piece, each could be taken individually and held as an example an outstanding accomplishment within the genre.

While “Teen Dream” doesn’t reinvent the wheel — Beach House’s sound is heavily rooted in slowcore’s past, with a nod or two toward the Cocteau Twins — that record’s followup, “Bloom,” is a sequel of a “Godfather Part II” level — it matches its predecessor’s excellence while potentially offering a piece of work that is arguably better.

Much like “Teen Dream” the songs on “Bloom” are great because they are at their core, songs, not landscapes. Strip “Myth” down to its essence and it would still carry a sweeping melody and grand scope without the hocus pocus of Chris Coady’s production. “Wishes” likewise, while benefiting greatly from its stargazing swirls of lush sound, the resigned lilt of Legrand’s voice and Scally’s staccatto guitar break would remain perfectly executed in any setting.

Beach House are a band that works within a niche. When Alex Scally talks about several songs being omitted because they “lacked a place within our vision for this album,” it’s hard to believe the band coming up with material that could be very different from what we’re hearing.  That niche — ethereal, wistful, atmospheric — may scare off people who may think that list as having a subtext of “boring,” but a mere run-through of these songs will immediately reveal the grooves and accessible textures. There’s a reason why The Weeknd, or at least Jeremy Rose, have ventured into this band for sampling material. They are not simply a glacial mass; the songs have heart and soul. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine tracks like “Troublemaker” and “New Year” being used for similar ventures into hip-hop and indie R&B. These are songs that translate well outside fan circles that focus on gooey snoozecore.

The notion behind “Bloom,” contrary to its release’s placement in the middle of springtime, is not a one-dimensional happy place. “‘Bloom’ is a journey,” says Victoria Legrand. “A bloom is only temporary…a fleeting vision of life in all its intensity and color, beautiful even if only for a moment.” Alex Scally puts it in even simpler terms in a recent interview where he specifies, “The word ‘bloom’ is much different than ‘grow.’ It implies something goes away, and stays that way.”

Everyone has a period in their life they consider to be their happiest moment. It could have been a day, or a few months, but it’s something that you never know as it’s happening. We often romanticize such periods in retrospect. “Bloom” would be a fitting soundtrack to such a grand recollection. Its powerful ambiance carries with it an oddly melancholic joy, one that typically gets associated with fond memories of a time long past. On “Troublemaker,” the chorus which falls gorgeously over a cascading piano part, reads like a warning, “Someday out of the blue it will find you/Always, always a face to remind me/Someone like you.” It’s a similar theme to “Teen Dream” standout “Walk in the Park,” but it’s just as heavy here as it is there.

The theme of reaching the end of a cycle of life is a constant throughout the album. “Lazuli” which takes its name from a rare gem, is like a mini-tutorial of “Bloom”‘s concept, starting with a budding keyboard arpeggio and tiny beatbox which quickly blossoms into a fully blissed out walking dream. It reaches a shift to a minor key in its coda, with Legrand billowing out the refrain, “Like no other, you can’t be replaced.” Its ability to subtly capture the coming and going of a happy moment is almost chilling.

While many may not hear the doom and gloom the band apparently is trying to convey on this record, their incidental enjoyment of it as a warm, smile inducing shot to their system is certainly not a bad thing. This music will likely coat the mental landscapes of its listeners and leave marks that they will either look back on and cherish or grow to resent. “Bloom” is a record that represents the fleetingness of beauty and our nostalgic attachment to it. This is that moment as it’s happening, so enjoy it now.