Review: Beach House – ‘Bloom’

bloom“Sad is happy for deep people.”

So spoke a young woman wandering around an abandoned house in a Doctor Who episode not so very long ago. She might just have a point though.

Bloom is a record of crushing sadness, and weird as it may seem, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from diving right in and immersing yourself in it all.

Beach House have always been Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Keys and electric guitar. That’s it. They can’t hide behind layers and layers of instrumentation. Their sound is simple by design, but it gathers up vast momentum nonetheless. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you heard ‘Teen Dream’. You know this formula works. But can it evolve?

The answer to that question is of course, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” Beach House are building on what they’ve already accomplished over three unquestionably beautiful records.  At this point, their is sound is so unique, so completely them, the real fascination of ‘Bloom’ isn’t what they add or subtract from their approach, but where they choose to go with it.

There’s an uncanny sense of déjà vu to first track ‘Myth’, but it’s not previous albums this music is calling up in the memory. It’s like this tune has been playing long before we got here, and will continue long after we‘ve left. Those hypnotic hooks and cascading guitars loop and slide and flicker like shapes moving under water, so that you can never really know what’s down there by simply lingering at the surface.

Wild’ is a celebration of spontaneity, wilfully ignoring superstitious warnings of doom to come. Dancing drums and a light touch on the keys embody that contentment to live in the moment. So it is that in a song like this, ‘we’ve got no time’ sounds more like a challenge than a lament.

Usually there are other sounds to point to, that you might form a better impression of at least the components of a band’s sound. Beach House are different. Alex Scally, for instance, is a guitar player quite unlike any other of his generation. His technique ranges all over the place; at times his guitar bounces and ripples like a harp; at others it might sound out a mandolin-like tremolo, bringing it to a shattering, trembling crescendo. It’s simply inconceivable that any other guitarist would play something like ‘Troublemaker’ quite the way he does.

That’s not all. The farther into this record you get, the more Victoria Legrand’s voice enchants and delights with her every husky breath. She gets a lot of comparisons to Nico, but there’s a lot more going on here. Listen to her sing ‘Wishes’, possessed of an intrepid zeal and a breathless, seductive whisper that’s all her own. Legrand has gone down her own path. Her voice is her signature now. Beach House are going places with this sound that can’t be boiled down to the contents of their record collection.

Can the essence of ‘Bloom’ really be boiled down to anything? To a point, perhaps. There are so many images, so many strange sensations to be gleaned from these songs, but they all share a certain hypnotism to their appeal. Whether you’re caught up in the thrilling, lovelorn ‘Lazuli’, the confusion and disguises of ‘Other People’, or the ethereal swells of ‘New Year’, there’s no denying Beach House have the powerfully unnerving essence of dreams down to a fine art.

Even ‘Irene’, the crashing, climactic last track, clings and hammers at a single chord for so long, you get the feeling they never really wanted it to end at all. And it doesn’t. Skip to the 13 and a half minute mark, where a hidden gem awaits you. Unnamed, unhurried and very after-after-party in atmosphere, it’s the chocolate on the cherry on top of the cake. That extra little touch you don’t notice unless you’re looking for it.

Fearless, fey and masterfully original, ‘Bloom’ is exactly the music you’d play if Jennifer Connelly had stayed trapped in that freakish masquerade ball with David Bowie in Labyrinth, waltzing up and down a hall of mirrors, losing her grip on time and reality. Fine, it’s only 50 minutes long, so you won’t be completely lost to the world on your first listen through. It’ll feel like it, though.

All it takes is a little devotion.

(Simon Moore)


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