Beach House
Once Twice Melody



by JohnnyoftheWell STAFF
February 19th, 2022 | 459 replies

Release Date: 02/18/2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Dark Souls of Disney soundtracks

As Beach House, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally make dream pop for a generation who like their downtime narcotic and their depression nostalgic. We know them a little too well by now: they’ve wormed their soundscapes into every other maudlin Western bedroom, bland enough to be universally palatable yet pretty enough to anchor even the most enfeebled attention spans. They came close to perfecting that balance on 2015’s Depression Cherry, but 2018’s 7 upended their methodology from top to tails and shook from its pockets a stash of tools that once seemed to exist in a different universe: dynamic mobility, noirish hints of darkness, meaningful lyricism, vitalised percussion, and textural flair as a means to a greater end. Armed as such, they flung open the doors to some luminous dreamland palace barely glimpsed on their previous reveries; when they announced Once Twice Melody, with its vast runtime, unprecedented span of styles, rich orchestration and bold release strategy, it seemed they were poised to stroll over the threshold and make that space their own. This is their coronation, their shot at a masterpiece, the realisation of everything anyone ever thought they could be – how much attention should we be paying?

The answer lives and dies on the record’s emotional journey. Though she stops short of an all-out conceptual epic, Legrand weaves a series of intersecting narratives of love and loneliness, intimacy and abandonment, maturity and nostalgia. Any one of these themes is rich enough to fuel far more than Once Twice Melody’s eighty-five minutes, but Beach House’s storytelling is defocused to the point of indistinction, strung out of moody vignettes that flow like asphalt and stick like the tide. Each presents an atmosphere so unwavering that it can only be construed as any kind of development by its placement in sequence; Legrand’s lyricism and languorous delivery suspend the affect of each single emotional impulse as though in honey. That’s how it’s always been with Beach House in their most magical and most tedious moments alike, but in all its grandiosity, Once Twice Melody craves an overarching vision that its individual, increasingly interchangeable ‘moments’ simply don’t amount to.

Drawing on the cinematic montages endlessly associated with these kinds of romantic gloss-songs, the album’s storytelling hinges on our ease in visualising, say the protagonist’s despair in “Only You Know” or her fluttering heartbeat in “New Romance”. No issue at first: the outstanding early run from “Superstar” to “ESP” is full of mutually distinct songs that easily translate as a gripping series of scenes. However, the album runs aground somewhere in its middle reaches, where its various textures and sentimentalities buckle under the weight of their commonalities, spooling out like the uncut reel of every take on the same sequence. Montage was born from theories of conflict between juxtaposed images; Beach House’s songwriting eschews contrast entirely and sets out a frictionless parable of a life too generalised to seem real, too dull to suggest an ideal, whose dissonances are confined to vague background shadows and whose harmonies are endless and endlessly cloying, voiced in the drawl of almost provocatively barefaced clichés, and packaged in the sweetest of tones because, God, you’d better believe romance isn’t dead if you hope to make it to the end of this record. Its heartbeat is the nostalgic pulse of ‘80s synthlines; its depth is a pretense of timelessness borrowed from chanson and vintage Hollywood tropes. Beach House make soundtracks for movies that don’t exist, cite Pitchfork in an endearing echo of uncountable YouTube comments; implicit is that this music demands an external narrator or extra medium to see it through. Beach House find this in their audience’s own trove of personal associations – no crime there, but their whole career can be read as a mapping of the ever-blurry line between what’s evocative enough to coax these out as though by its own merits and what’s just listless enough to enable it as though through its own inanity. Once Twice Melody straddles both sides like nothing you’ve ever heard.

Fortunately for us all, this is just too gorgeous a record to pose a true slog. Though it spreads itself less densely, its production retains the weight and depth of 7’s, while the arrangements are astonishingly far removed from the crudeness of their early material. Drummer James Barone remains the band’s secret weapon, furnishing each track with an unobtrusively organic foundation, while the group’s synth work is more diversely implemented than ever, spiralling arpeggios on “Through Me”, a dancefloor pulse on “Masquerade”. The final icing on this more-icing-than-cake cake is a new touch: live string arrangements. Scally and Legrand have an excellent ear for these whether they’re layering them as unisons to enrich Legrand’s refrains (“Pink Funeral”), opting for dramatic clout (“Modern Love Stories”), or landing a lick of Disney on the fringes of bedroom stupor (“ESP”). Reduce them to ear candy if you will, it’s hard to deny that this band knows their craft.

Not all the duo’s developments land as concrete improvements: “Only You Know”, for instance, reprises “Woo” from 7 with its weary slow-dance and vocal layerings, but lacks its predecessor’s soupy delirium or the bite of its anxiety. “The Bells” goes further still and revives Scally’s slide guitar from the Devotion/Teen Dream era while Legrand goes full “Hallelujah” in her incantation of cars, bars, lies, girls et al.. Both fall as disparate curios on a long since oversaturated tracklist. Conversely, Once Twice Melody is at its best when it breaks new ground: “Runaway” is by far the most kinetic Beach House have ever sounded, electric in its glittering keyboards and modulated vocals, while “Pink Funeral” distills the evasive currents of darkness that ran through 7 into something outright macabre, appropriately kitsch for its nods to Swan Lake. Do these songs suggest a new life for the band? Album highlight “Superstar” tilts its head laconically, spellbindingly non-committal as it glides through the motions of everything ever worth loving about Beach House. There’s a lesson here: this band can take their aesthetics as far as they like, but they’ll always be just that.

Looking out at the wide, wild world
It's a lot for the boys and girls
There's a lot of bad things out there
When they nod and they just don't care
You've got imagination

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user ratings (264)
other reviews of this album
Brandon Taylor (4.5)
It's a good year to be a Beach House fan...

Comments:Add a Comment 
Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.0

album has all the girth and none of the blood flow

Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.3

sorry i accidentally concluded this review in paragraph #3 please read no further unless you like this album and want to read token compliments about songs i do sincerely really like (in which case maybe read the last bit only)

album was hard to rate because the good bits are really great and the bad bits are bad. did an avg of my EP ratings (3.9 + 3.5 + 3.4 + 2.5) to square it out

incorrect ranking of all songs:

incorrecter ranking of most songs:

Beach House being stratospheric wankers in the company of p4k:

7>>>>Depression Cherry>this>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>all other Beach House

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.5

Great review Johnny. The last quarter is certainly the worst part of this, unfortunately.

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.1

it's a beach house album, alright

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 4.0

Great review and very wrong score. ;-)

This is basically Bloom II and I'm falling in love all over again

I definitely recommend a full listen, but here's my current [condensed] version of personal favorites for easier listening if you're not feeling up to all 18 songs. I think it flows very well and definitely brings the starry romance vibes:

1. Once Twice Melody

2. New Romance

3. Illusions of Forever

4. Superstar

5. Pink Funeral

6. Runaway

7. The Bells

8. Through Me

9. Sunset

10. Masquerade

11. Another Go Around

12. Hurts to Love

13. Modern Love Stories

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 4.5

Agreed! Falling in love all over again, basically.

Might even bump my rating up, this is probably their best album.

Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2022


Blatant plagarim. I reserve my rights. To be mildly peeved.

Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.3

truly the dark souls of plagiarism accusations

February 19th 2022


If this album were a pork pie it'd be the crumbliest, richest Melton Mowbray, pork encased in an exoskeleton of pure Stilton with a slice of black pudding on the top.

February 19th 2022


Gobstoppers: the Dark Souls of candy

Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2022


the way they rolled out this album felt obnoxious

just not sure I can be bothered, lol

February 19th 2022


Calling an incremental, drip-feed release for an album explicitly split into 4 self-contained parts "obnoxious" is a bit dramatic

Contributing Reviewer
February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

all jelly no meat

destined for the biffa bin

now that’s a bargain

February 19th 2022


Sh sh should we check ?

Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

i do agree! pretty (and) empty

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 1.5

yes this was pretty boring by beach house standards

slightly better than depression cherry but that's about it

February 19th 2022


i saw a bunch of BH fans on social media getting pissed at pitchfork for giving this a 7.8 and thought it was kinda funny

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 2.5

"7>>>>Depression Cherry>this>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>all other Beach House"


February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 1.5

depression cherry is poo indeed

February 19th 2022


Album Rating: 3.5

Depression Cherry is the best.

This was pretty good on first listen, I think the Chapter 3 songs were my favorite, though “Modern Love Songs” is one hell of a closer. Look forward to continuing to dig into this though I have a feeling I’ll end up cherry-picking my favorite tracks rather than consistently returning to this as a full listen.

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