It's been a dream ride for fans who've followed the career of dream-pop duo Beach House. The Baltimore band's discography has been the most blessed of steady progressions: an album every two years, each one successively brighter, bolder, and better. They haven't done that by changing, staying true to their simple voice/organ/guitar/drums set-up whilst refusing the trappings of upwardly mobility —string sections, horn parts, name producers, self-consciousness, salesmanship, gimmickry— that scuttle most other bands.
Listening to their fourth album, Bloom, feels, then, like an unexpected thrill, a dismantling of audience expectations and dominant cultural patterns. After breaking out with 2010's Teen Dream —the most acclaimed, successful record of their careers— the next expected step would be towards disappointment; the letdown that trails in the wake of buzz. But Bloom meets any and all expectations, pushing Beach House's sound —and narrative— forever forward; fans feeling lucky to be on such a fantastic voyage.
Help Me To Name It
In a perfectly Beach House-ian way, Bloom has the feeling of being 'bigger,' even though it features the same instrumentation as ever, and even the same producer, Chris Coady, as last time around. But the sense of scale isn't something imposed upon them, or the product of a technical shift. Here, that growth grows up from within; Bloom's title handily evoking a band blossoming —again— in an unfolding of profound beauty.
The album begins simply, with a shaker and cowbell rhythm, before gathering in grandeur as it goes; picking up parts —a guitar, an organ riff, a vocal— as opener "Myth" stalks beautiful terrain. "Help me to name it!" implores Victoria Legrand, in a voice growing huskier, and deeper, with each passing album; each lap around the same refrain. Though the song plays out at the same unhurried pace as Beach House's entire oeuvre (and, indeed, career), there's a definite note of desperation in her voice. She's striving to seize an emotion elusive, trying to use words to capture the ephemera of "momentary bliss."
Later, on "Wishes" —which sounds, in some not-entirely-tangible way, like the most definitive of Beach House songs— Legrand asks "How's it supposed to feel?" with a similarly imploring voice; the rhetorical question hanging in the air, as if the vocalist knows there's no way of answering it, or, at least, no way of labeling it.
That songs on here are about elusive emotions, and the difficulty of identifying and describing them, is all too telling. Beach House's music is hard to write about; its unabashed sincerity, lyrical inscrutability, and unvaried constancy defying the usual tricks of critical reductionism.
Every album is effectively exactly the same —the same instruments, same sentiments, same tempos— but yet they feel so different, so fresh. It's hard to convey how they do this; how they can appear to grow 'bigger' without adding instruments or abusing studio effects. But that 'sameness' speaks of a sense of warm familiarity in their music; not that they're recycling old tropes or aping past hits, but that it has this warm, lived-in sense, that it presses against you, or trickles into your neural pathways, or, like, something.
Perhaps it is the way the album plays with memory, or stokes at it in listeners. "Some day out of the blue it will find you," Legrand carols, mid-"Troublemaker," "Always a face to remind me." In "The Hours," she sings "all the recollections/spinning in a field," and, once again, we're pirouetting through memories, in that happy/sad realm of nostalgia, of those vivid visions from times spent outside of the daily grind. Each song is open for interpretation, but most seem to exist in that place where relationships are fleeting, or unsure; those early flirtations, or moments of confusion, or slipping-away goodbyes. Perhaps it's just life on the road, as a touring band, every day a re-set, every connection fleeting, things totally slipping away.
"It's deeper than you and me," Legrand sings, in repeated motif, and it sounds as if wise advice. Life, love, music, art, Beach House albums: these are all impossibly deep things, difficult to explain, impossible to describe, and endlessly mysterious.
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: May 15, 2012