Over the span of its brief career, Baltimore-based duo Beach House have been able to do a lot with very little. By that, we mean that Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have been able to construct some vast and sweeping dream pop with a simple set-up that usually consists of slide guitar, programmed drums, organ, and, of course, Legrand’s captivating voice. Despite its limited resources, Beach House have always created hypnotic soundscapes that sound infinitely larger than the sum of its meager parts. Legrand and Scally have managed to set themselves apart by incorporating some of the classic drone elements of their shoegaze and dream pop influences into their own ambitious and multi-layered approach to songwriting. It wasn’t long before people began to notice.
In 2010, the band embarked on a considerable upswing with the release of Teen Dream, its third album and first for Sub Pop. On Teen Dream, the duo abandoned some of the more sparse sounds found on earlier records like Beach House and Devotion in favor of more lush and fully realized pop elements. Teen Dream also happened to be the band’s most successful and accessible album to date.
Although Teen Dream is a rather intimidating yardstick with which to measure the band’s next record, 2012’s Bloom does quite well for itself. That might have something to do with the fact that Legrand and Scally essentially made a record that picks up exactly where the previous one left off. They even enlisted Teen Dream’s co-producer Chris Coady to assume the same role on Bloom.
The album has drummed up a considerable amount of well-earned buzz with the release of the track “Myth.” Although Beach House remains a lean and streamlined outfit in terms of personnel, “Myth’s” dreamy expanse proves that it doesn’t take many people to create a truly large and entrancing sound. Victoria Legrand’s vocals are as smoky and ethereal as ever.
Clearly, placing this stunner at the top of the album was a calculated move. One can’t help but view the lyric “what comes after this momentary bliss” as an optimistic nod to the rest of the record.
From there, Bloom launches into the shimmery and upbeat “Wild.” Here we get a healthy dose of Alex Scally’s languid slide guitar and driving synth pop sensibilities anchored by the duo’s trademark layered soundscapes.
On “Lazuli,” the bouncy synth lines and uncharacteristic catchiness belie the inherent darkness of Legrand’s lyrics. It’s not until the fifth track, “The Hours,” that Scally and Legrand drop a particularly captivating chorus. Although Legrand is wispy and lilting as she sings, “frightened eyes, looking back at me…” it’s clear that she’s constructing an artful and captivating melody. Underneath all of the breathy vocals and reverb is one of the more pronounced invitations to actively sing along rather than sit back and passively absorb Scally and Legrand’s meticulously crafted pop ruminations.
Of course, the album isn’t meant to be viewed as a collection of tracks, but rather one unified and cohesive piece of work. The fact that none of the songs clock in at under 4 minutes adds to Bloom’s expansive quality in that the tracks don’t so much stand alone, but bleed into one another.
Also, throughout the record, Legrand’s lyrics take a turn for the morose. The track “New Year” sets a meditation on disappointment and disillusionment against a light and bouncy rhythm. “Wild” works as a wistful ode to lost innocence, as demonstrated in the lines “my mother said to me I would get in trouble/ our father won’t come home cause he is seeing double.”
On “Other People,” it’s easy to get so distracted by the nods to Head Over Heels-era Cocteau Twins that one might totally miss the all-consuming sense of isolation in the lyrics. However, that’s the beauty of Legrand’s songwriting. She can explore feelings that are dark and complicated without being so literal or on the nose. If there’s one aspect that’s always been consistent throughout the band’s songwriting, it’s subtlety.
Although Beach House can’t be accused of breaking any new ground on Bloom, the duo should be lauded for finding a formula that works and sticking to it. For now, that’s quite enough.
Photo by Liz Flyntz