Beach House – Bloom
I should prefix this review by stating that this will not be an unbiased review. Like a Fox News correspondent doing a respective look back on a Bush or Reagan presidency or Eddie McGuire presenting a viewpoint on a Collingwood game on The Hot Breakfast, with a Beach House album, presenting an unbiased review is next to impossible, thanks to my almost pathological obsession with the band and its two talented members.
However, despite my predisposition for loving this band, any human being with a set of working ears can at least accept that the latest Beach House effort, Bloom, could be considered beautiful art. It is safe to say that this album would never be considered 2012’s version of the ‘Pisschrist‘. Once again the Baltimore duo have combined to create ten wonderful dream pop arrangements that are everything you want from a Beach House song. Uplifting with a strange mix of melancholy, tranquil but at times emphatic, subtle yet insistent and, most importantly, a fantastic pop album that plays very well on repeated listens.
Many people considered the bands 2010 effort Teen Dream almost the perfection of the genre, so there was much trepidation surrounding the release of this album, especially from fans. How could they match their best? Would they change too much and alienate their base? Thankfully the band, in form from a worldwide tour, have matured and managed to perfect their sound they found so well on Teen Dream.
It is all still there. The band still employ their ace in the hole, tension and release, and play it better than almost any band in the world today. Victoria Legrand still possesses a low, throaty, honey like vocal that consistently drips from her mouth, and she has not lost her talent for summating life’s most complicated problems in the smartest, simplest lyrics, allowing for universal identification. Alex Scally still plays the guitar like he is playing through vapour. In some songs it sounds as if he is aching, struggling to get the notes out, often to great effect. He is an underrated and talented musician and important part of the bands progress. More importantly the band has not lost their talent or ear for melody and hooks. Some of the pop hooks on this album are some of this album are the bands best to date.
The album possesses many ‘Beach House moments’, like the wonderful single note synth beginning to third track Lazuli or the incredible soaring chorus on standout track Wishes. However there is also many experimental moments on the album, most notably the ninth track On The Sea, another of the albums best. At first sounding like a twisted nursery rhyme, the song builds to an incredibly poignant crescendo. This is the best Legrand’s voice sounds on the album and is quite emotionally effecting. This is compounded by the haunting nursery rhyme organ, the dichotomy of beautiful and melancholy creating a truly evocative mix.
It is hard to find fault with such a fantastic album that manages to connect on such an intrinsic emotional level. However there are a few things that I found irritating. It sounds like on quite a few tracks they used a drum machine, which is confusing, when so much of the guitar and vocal resonates because of its authenticity. The drum patterns (Wild, Irene, Lazuli) also sound like they could be easily replicated by the live drummer, who also completes some talented work on the album. Whether the band was intentionally looking for an inauthentic sound is not for me to say, but it was confusing. Similarly, the final track (Irene) seems more like a song that would absolutely shine as a slow, meditative festival closer, but loses some impact on an album full of standouts.
As fans, critics and listeners, we have come to expect perfection from Beach House. So the band has a lot to live up to. With this in mind, calling your album Bloom is a brave move. Not only does it put a certain image in the listeners mind but it also gives every single lazy journalist an angle for their article. While it would be absolutely facile to say that this album is in fact Beach House in ‘full bloom’, the reality is that this band has been perfecting a sound for years, but it has not done a lot wrong for the last five.
The question remains for many though, can this period of ‘bloom’ (ugh) last? The reality is that Beach House have one of the most fully realised “sounds’ of any band in the popular music spectrum. Aside from the ‘hey this makes me want to commit mass murder’ LMFAO eardrum scrape, the ‘Beach House‘ sound is arguably more instantly recognisable than any current band, full of individual idiosyncrasies. Some detractors have claimed that this album may in fact share a few too many similarities with the sound on Teen Dream. Nonetheless, I think this is absolutely baseless. It is like critiquing Daft Punk for ‘using electronic loops again’ or criticising Domino’s on their latest Margherita Pizza offering for being ‘just tomato cheese and herbs’.
Zebra’s should not have to change their stripes, especially when these stripes have been consistently worked on, perfected and in the case of Beach House and Bloom, created one of the years best albums.