Beach House • Bloom
Myth,” the first single and album opener from Beach House’s fourth record, Bloom, is slow but sharp, a song that's clear enough that it could be played on the radio, but not as flatly frantic as the songs that are currently. The Baltimore duo (or, sure, "dream pop" duo) have sort of sounded like this from the start. But the eerie consistency of the mood they’ve conjured up for the last six years—a deliberately induced feeling of minor regret over a recently bittersweet moment, as pondered by a fogged-up window, or in a candlelit study, or smoking a cigarette under your cul-de-sac's flickering street lamp at 1am—camouflages the finer point they keep putting on it.
On Bloom, as on 2010’s beloved Teen Dream, that tone is built from elusive sentiments given high-focus. Again produced by Teen Dream’s Chris Coady (the in-demand producer of albums by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Grizzly Bear, a million others), this is their second fully realized pop record. Their grown-up, expensive-sounding songs now equal in number the hazy, lo-fi bedroom mood pieces that first got them noticed and widely imitated. (This was a band that preceded and predicted the dreaded shapelessness of chillwave, remember.) Yet the record ends up being a weird case study against a career path of constant reinvention. You might as well do it until you’ve done it right. And then once more, with feeling.
The reason this isn’t boring yet (and it’s a minor miracle that it isn’t) is simple: they keep sounding better. It’s not like higher production values have exposed them. It's quite the opposite. Singer Victoria Legrand, once pervasively described as “ethereal,” has become the band’s soulful authority. On “Other People” she sings maddeningly elusive lines like, “other people want to keep in touch/Something happens and it’s not enough/ Never thought that it would mean so much” with enough feeling to compel a game of emotional Mad Libs, listeners searching for minor tragedies to fill in the blanks.
As the cheap, organ-and-drum-machine smear of 2006’s Beach House has improved towards Bloom’s distinct separation of sounds, they've become a band whose music rewards close attention even more than it encourages you to zone out (they are still great to zone to, don’t worry). The bright, blinking intro of “Lazuli” blows up into lush chamber pop, and you can hear every note. The slo-mo post-punk guitar that almost overtakes “Wishes” and “Irene," sort of like Interpol riffs playing alone in the mix at the wrong turntable speed, are chunky enough for physical effect. Their drum sounds, once broken, limping, are now coolly assertive. In multiple spots on the record, you actually feel a swell of energy when the choruses are kicking in! To dwell on Beach House’s almost unsettling tonal consistency is to miss the ways they’ve developed. What might, for posterity, seem like a monolithic back catalog of signature ache, has actually been a surprisingly rewarding career to follow through half-steps.