Review Summary: The band that continues to bear flowers...
“Saltwater,” the first song on the first album of Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House
, set the stage perfectly for the band’s next five years– burbling, warped, lo-fi synths, a dim, beautiful hum of electric guitar, and Victoria Legrand’s reverb-soaked vocals portraying a nostalgic sense of longing. Throughout the course of their next two albums, this was the formula that was teased with and improved, but never drastically changed. It may seem like a crutch, relying on a single basic form over the course of 30 songs, but for Beach House it meant consistency and a slew of critical praise. This praise was more pronounced for 2010′s Teen Dream, the band’s first release on Sub Pop, due to a more pop-conscious sound and increased maturity. Bloom, also released by Sub Pop, sees Beach House continue on that same path.
This polished sound was immediatly evident in the first taste of Bloom we got: “Myth,” the opener and leadoff single. Apart from the immediate drum “clang” (a change from their usually very limited palette of drum tones), the first 45 seconds of “Myth” could be on any Beach House album: an elementary beat, an arpeggiating synth and a shimmering guitar line. But when Legrand begins singing, the sound gets deeper and groovier, and keeps growing with the addition of ethereal looped vocals in the background. The chorus strikes, the tempo doubles, and all of the sudden we’re not in the Kansas of lo-fi indie anymore. I’m not always a proponent of expensive, EQ’d-to-death sound, but on Bloom this nuanced approach leads to Oz-like results.
Some may mourn the old, reverb-shrouded sound, but when we get “Wild”‘s synth-pop-inspired verses, the stunning clarity of Legrand’s voice on “Other People” (arguably her best vocal performance yet), and downright interesting beats on “Troublemaker” and “Wishes,” it’s hard to complain about Beach House’s shiny new polish. I hesitate to use the phrase “adult alternative” in relation to Bloom, mostly because it conjures up images of Counting Crows, Matchbox 20 and David Gray, but if you’re reading this Mom, I really feel like you’d dig this. I almost get a Stevie Nicks vibe from some of Legrand’s confidant vocals. Sadly, this means that almost all weird aspects (you know, the drone-y, spaced out parts) of Beach House’s sound are gone, much to my dismay. But within a capital-driven music industry that strains 95% of the weirdness out of 95% of bands, I have to at least be happy that Beach House underwent this increase in orthodoxy more gracefully than the vast majority of their peers (see: Neon Indian’s Era Extraña).
Some of this increased maturity also comes from Bloom‘s lyrical content. Whereas Teen Dream used walks in the park, black and white horses, stone-throwing and Scandinavian countries as guises for love songs, Bloom is a bit more straightforward, and a hell of a lot more of a morose. Through various clues: “other people want to keep in touch,” “watch it unravel, pulling everything apart,” “don’t know which side you’re on,” to name a few, it becomes clear that this is an album about getting over someone. But this isn’t some sad sack, “one person doesn’t like me so *** the world,” Conor Oberst bull***. Bloom is uplifting in the way your parents and friends are supposed to be after a breakup– telling you how ***ty your ex was, doing the whole “fish in the sea” speel– letting a sense of hope override the gloom. I think this is where the blooming metaphor comes into play, as a sign of new life, but it can also be applied to the album’s burst of colorful sound, and more primitively, to its Spring release date. Bloom reiterates the consistency that has come to define Beach House’s six year career, and in my mind, is grounds to call them a true “mainstay” band in the indie community. May they continue to flower and bear fruit for years to come.