Album Review: Beach House – Bloom

With Bloom, Baltimore’s Beach House has achieved the pinnacle of musical accomplishments, issuing what is arguably the finest record of the year so far, and is likely to remain so. However, Bloom is not a divergent breakthrough from previous Beach House albums. Rather, it emerges as the perfect crescendo climax to the developing blueprint that the band has been unfurling for the past eight years, since their inception in 2004. Bloom is the most sonically mature, technically flawless, and ambitious album thus far, taking the fundamental elements on which Beach House has built their career and fine tuning them to perfection.

“Myth,” the opening track, was the first single to be released from the album, and represents everything that follows. Instantly, it is recognizable as Beach House—Victoria Legrand’s vocals have become iconic, and Alex Scally’s twinkling guitar trademark. “Myth” is fittingly named, since Beach House continues their rapid approach to the status of legends. The track’s synths, guitars, and atmospheric soundscapes sprawl epically, swelling beautifully, and the drums are punchier and more pronounced than ever before. Here, Beach House has eased on what might be called “lo-fi,” on their previous efforts, but their statically charged background textures remain, punctuated by the clarity of percussive tom hits and snare pops. The production is immaculate without feeling studio slick.

As convincing as “Myth” is, the vacillating synth hook that launches “Wild,” which follows, stands out as one of the catchiest parts of the album. The second track’s subtle progressions into and out of the chorus and verses are expertly rendered, possessing the flood of sound that washes forth from each Beach House song. To provide a direct personal opinion: it’s one of my favorite cuts from the album. By the end, it’s huge; the toms thunder concussively and Legrand belts it out over soaring atmospherics.

Afer the walking range of scale-dancing, high-pitched keys kick off the third track, “Lazuli,” and the song breaks out into breathy, pulsing vocals you know: there’s simply no point in attempting to quantify the greatness of this record. So many moving parts function simultaneously to make this track anthemic that singling out each one would constitute a novel. The minor keys that shift and build into major progression are killer. The track dissolves into a groove of snare and layered vocals, and I melt uncontrollably.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “What makes the desert beautiful, is that somewhere it hides a well.” Picking out the highlights of Bloom strikes me as silly. It is without a doubt the kind of record that will slowly reveal its secrets. The quietly distorted underlying riff of “Troublemaker,” for example. What’s for certain is that all of these nuances cannot be detected on a first listen. The album’s cover art perfectly reflects this concept. At first it appears to be a uniform sea of dots, but after longer and more careful gazing, tiny irregularities emerge—a band of darker circles near the bottom, several partially eclipsed circles. Even the fact that the circles thin as the eyes move up the design recalls an artistic approach of minimalist variation, and is not unlike viewing a piece of art by Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, or Mark Rothko. Those religious about appreciating every aspect of an album, and even those casual listeners who have the album on in their car for months, will continue to be rewarded with treasures from the rich and layered sounds of Bloom.

Comprehensively speaking, Bloom does feel slightly different that earlier albums. It utilizes major keys more often, shimmers more brightly, and sparkles with hope. Even the sorrowful minor chords are shinier. Beach has always possessed a gloominess that balances their subdued, dreamy pop, and this element remains, as both musical motifs and lyrics delve into darkness. However, the songs, considered on the surface and as a whole, are less dreary than ever before, and rightfully so. Who could bear to make dreary music when a band has accomplished so much?

The secret track that follows closer “Irene” is the nearest thing to the early days of Beach House. This bonus recording seems purposely placed here as a reminder of the evolution of the band—a sort of indie version of reppin’ roots. The song is all country twang and mellow downbeat. It also acts as proof of Beach House’s undying ability to deliver their unique sound in multiple formats.

Bloom shouldn’t come as a shock. Beach House has been working toward this for years. Each of their past efforts has garnered spots on top whatever (25, 50, 100) year-end lists. As perfect as Beach House’s new effort is, this honor seems foregone. Who knows what greatness the remaining seven months of 2012 will bring? But prematurely, Bloom will likely register in the top three of critics’ lists for the year, towering above others as a practically perfect album.

Hear “Myth” from the album Bloom below via Soundcloud.

 

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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