[Sub Pop, 2012]
Jeff Pearson, September 28, 2012
“Dream pop” is one of those journalist-created genre tags that we are all guilty of using yet not one of us knows where it came from or what it really means. It has its place, however, in the long-standing tradition of somewhat nonsensical compound genre-name-making with the likes of “witch house,” “math rock,” and “freak folk.” It likely came about when a writer had one too many bong rips and was nervous about a looming deadline, listening to The Chameleons thinking, “It’s so dreamy. It’s so poppy. My god, that’s it.” I will probably slip up at some point during this review—at some point during this paragraph, to be honest—and refer to the Baltimore-based duo Beach House’s latest full-length in some dream poppy sort of way; it’s hard not to, as they just do dream pop (This sentence? Come on!) better than anyone else. They’re dreamier, poppier, more immensely beautiful than practically all who lovingly share the shallow label.
Over the course of their career, Beach House has pushed themselves with each record to stay ahead of the game and firmly rooted at the apex of the resurging sound. Fans thought that the band could never top their last record, the lush Teen Dream, but with Bloom they might just have succeeded. It continues in the natural direction the band has been moving in, but is enough of a variation on a theme to where it doesn’t feel like Teen Dream 2—which, though it sounds like could be, is not the name of an obscure eighties buddy movie. Instead of taking the safe route and delivering the same record again, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally pushed themselves to make a record that was undoubtedly them, yet would feel like growth from—and possibly even and expansion of—the universally lauded Teen Dream. At the same time, expecting a completely new direction for the band should be out of the question. As Scally pointed out in a recent interview, they like where they are as a band and have found their identity, saying, “This is just what we do. This is Victoria’s voice. These are the organs that we like. This is our band.” It’s for this reason that fans of Beach House should always like Beach House and there is a sort of comfort in that thought. It’s like listening to a baseball game on the radio as the summer finally begins to fade into fall; it may be something you have done a thousand times in your life, but the perpetual buzz of the crowd coming through your speakers feels comforting, like the blanket that used to cover you as you listened as a kid.
This isn’t to say that the band is completely stagnant in their approach to music. With each record, the songwriting has grown stronger and more pronounced. Bloom is Beach House’s richest offering yet in that regard, made evident right from the very start with “Myth.” The song immediately invokes profoundly intense emotions, probably different ones for any given listener. Legrand’s voice has never sounded stronger, singing about troubling times with a confidence that could confuse listeners into believing they’re in for an uplifting record. When taken on the somewhat superficial tonal level, Bloom really is uplifting and even empowering. The way Legrand’s silvery vocals combine with the full-bodied instrumental surroundings created by Scally is overwhelmingly beautiful, and there’s always happiness to be found in beauty. However, as Legrand sings, “Can’t keep hanging on to all that’s dead and gone / If you build yourself a myth, know just what to give,” it becomes more clear that underneath Bloom is festering doom. It speaks to the power of the record that you can really listen to it multiple ways and feel multiple ways about it; the effective way the lyrics are decorated can actually give hope to the listener when relating Legrand’s troubles with their own.
This feeling of connectivity to Beach House’s sound only grows stronger as the album progresses. Scally’s arrangements are so prodigious that the songs are like individual galaxies being pulled apart by the weight of the universe, making the listener feel the infinite nature of the world we live in. It’s really quite remarkable. “Wild” sees Legrand climb a sinewy rope of tremolo-picked guitars to the farthest reaches of the sky, while synthesizers oscillate around “Lazuli,” giving it a blue shimmer much like the gemstone the song is named after. Though a somewhat spartan—by today’s standards, anyway—ten tracks, Bloom feels whole, not only in the sense of musical completion, but also emotionally. In fact, it’s almost draining in how the volcanic tracks come one after the other; a bad track might almost be welcome in there, something devoid of feeling where the listener can collect themselves from the heap on the floor they have likely become.
Not going to happen, though. Who would really want that, anyway? Bloom is a blessing in a world growing increasingly afraid of showing emotion, and each song explores the depths of what humans are capable of feeling. For all of the pain present in Legrand’s lyrics, the album does have a strange way of resonating in a positive way with the listener. Perhaps it’s just the optimist in me, or the fact that listening to music in that superficial tonal way really is the way a lot of us—including myself—swallow art, or maybe just because hearing something beautiful makes us happy. Either way, as Legrand sings, “It’s a strange paradise / You’ll be waiting,” on the album’s closer, the flowing drapery of “Irene,” she is sort of giving us a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just that the tunnel we just went through was completely entrancing, a transparent roof projecting the stars above us, and we wouldn’t mind driving back through it.