It is with a certain trepidation that I embark on this piece – an pseudo-review of Beach House’s “Bloom.” Though it’s one thing to love (read: lurve) music with every cockle of my heart, it’s quite another to attempt some sort of coherent commentary on it. What’s more, there is nothing worse than taking the mystery and majesty of sound and mummifying it with analysis. But this preamble aside, it is joy rather than expertise that motivates this particular writing. Imagine, if you will, that I simply wish to share my headphones (and a little backstory) with you.
Many moons ago, I heard that Beach House was about to release their third album “Teen Dream” on Sub Pop. The band, (who’re called) a dream-pop indie duo from Baltimore, had released two albums (their self-titled debut and “Devotion”) on D.C imprint Carpark, and had recently been signed by the major Seattle indie label. Though I had heard about the band, I neither owned any of their albums nor was familiar with any of their music. And one night at home, everything changed.
The single for “Teen Dream” was “Norway,” and as I waited to listen to it, I had little to no expectations. The song begins with a faint electronic beat, accompanied shortly thereafter with a sustained organ and a measured, driving tom. And then – like chandelier light washing a dim room – the song sparkles into life with Victoria Legrand’s vocals, Alex Scally’s guitar arpeggios and a progression of chords so delicately preserving a balance between the bitter and the sweet. It sounded so full, so enfolding, and so perfect. Though I do like to let songs and albums simmer somewhere in the subconscious, it took all of 16 seconds for me to fall in love with Beach House. Once it finally arrived in the mail, I listened to “Teen Dream” obsessively (thank you four-hour round trip commute between home and Jerusalem). It became my favorite album of 2010.
Naturally, I wanted to know about my new-found love’s back catalogue, and ordered “Devotion” from Insound. They sent me the debut album by mistake and when I mentioned this to them, they graciously re-sent the order. Only it was another copy of the debut album. Tiny miscommunication. Truth be told, I felt twice as obligated to give the album a thorough listen, but just couldn’t get into it. I was probably just anxious for the record I had actually ordered. “Devotion” eventually came and I listened to it with care, ebbing and flowing with each movement of its melancholy tide. Though perhaps smaller in scope and breadth in comparison with “Teen Dream” (probably owing to slower tempos and sparing use of live drums in favor of almost Casiotone-like programming), the songwriting and sense of melody is still masterful. And the bridge for “You Came to Me” is perfect.
Sometime this past year, I saw a clip of a Beach House performing an unreleased song on YouTube (I’m not that geeky; I read about the song and then watched the clip, okay?). Though it wasn’t the greatest sound or image quality, I noticed something: they were rocking. And it sounded great. Soon afterwards, rumors of a new album started circulating. Then surfaced the album cover (a dizzying sight somewhat reminiscent of Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavillion”), the album title (“Bloom“), the tracklisting, and at last the release date: May 15, 2012. The song “Lazuli” (which reminded me of little else than W.B Yeats) was released as a foretaste and although I listened to the track, it was apparently a forgettable experience since I don’t have much recollection of what I felt or thought about it. One thing I do recall is that it sounded all too familiar, and I was disappointed. “Been there, done that,” I thought, and flirted with the idea of giving “Bloom” a miss entirely.
Then I read an interview with the duo where, in no uncertain terms, Scally described how the sound of the new album wasn’t a conscious choice to maintain the status quo or to push boundaries, but was simply them being themselves. He compared people needing new sounds from a band to a baby needing new distractions every five minutes. Was I said baby? I realized that my expectations of novelty had derailed my ability to appreciate “Lazuli,” as well as my perception of the new album. This whole expectation defines experience thing isn’t really all that new, is it? I should have known. At any rate, “Bloom” was back on the table. It was a few days before May 15.
Although the entire enterprise of a record release date is a bit of a non-event in our digital world, I was determined to get a copy of the album somewhere, as close to its actual release date as possible. I scoured various shops and their websites to see if they had “Bloom” on their release calendar. Negatory. Then, on May 21st, I called HMV and was told that they had copies of the album, but only in one rather inconvenient location. Undeterred, I hopped on a train and eventually found myself there, excitedly perused the aisles, and finally saw the dizzying cover on the shelf. At the cashier, I was daydreaming about opening the packaging at home, so I could take it in slowly as I listened to the album (there is no greater delight than opening a cd for the first time). Filled with these notions of possible pomp and circumstance, I succumbed to temptation and opened the album unceremoniously there in the mall.
When I got home, I put the cd on, and sat down in a comfortable chair. The album begins with “Myth,” which starts with some mechanical drum programming before Scally’s guitar comes in like a siren. It reminded me a little bit of the intro to “Norway” for some reason and as the song pulsed into full swing, there it was. The love once again poured in.
I’ve lost track of how much I have listened to “Bloom” since I got it. It’s a killer, and definitely the best thing I’ve heard all year. It’s pulling, evocative, and soulful, and the songs propel forward with a rhythmic intensity (I’m trying to avoid saying that they rock) which was absent on “Devotion” and “Teen Dream.” I could go on about how the sense of melody is absolutely pristine, how the key changes in “Troublemaker” and “New Year” are magnificent, how the guitar lick in “Wild” is this and that, and how “Lazuli” has since become one of my favorite songs. I could even say that “Bloom” rocks and makes you close your eyes and nod your head in time (and approval). But all of this is but a crude approximation of the feeling and the joy. At the end of the day, you’ll just have to hear it. Though “Bloom” may not be entirely novel, I’m glad to say it’s still perfect.