Release Date: May 15th, 2012
Label: Sub Pop Records
Bloom sounds too much like Teen Dream. Devotion sounds too much like the self-titled debut record. If you’re one of the countless listeners who has complained about the similarities between Bloom and Teen Dream, I ask that you to take a step back, and look at the bigger picture. Listen to the advances Beach House has made from 2006 with their self-titled album to their current and perhaps strongest release, Bloom. I’m much more fascinated in growth over a career rather than jolting sonic changes release after release in order to stay “fresh.” When a band puts out four albums in six years, easy comparisons between similar-sounding releases will undoubtedly be made. But if you zoom out and look at their full discography, you’ll begin to see their true development, and an impressive exploration of sound. It’s within this context of steady development that Bloom becomes the paramount moment for Beach House.
The most obvious advances Beach House has made over their four releases all relate to confidence. Frontwoman Victoria Legrand has evolved from a shy lo-fi vocalist to an emotional dynamo who can make even the simplest of line deliveries feel like the most important words ever spoken. Alex Scally has always played infectious guitar riffs, but on Teen Dream and now Bloom, Scally’s focus has shifted to pushing the sound to a crisper, shinier tone – the perfect complement to Legrand’s vocals. There are two reasons for this growth in confidence. First, the money spent on production has increased album to album, allowing the band to overcome obstacles that were financially insurmountable on their first two records. Secondly, Beach House are self-historians, understanding their own ideal sound better than anyone, as well as the sound their audience desires and the sound they ultimately conjure on each record. It’s obvious that Bloom is the record they’ve tried to make three times previously. Now, with the money and experience in their corner, they achieved their ultimate sound.
While Bloom is nearly a perfect record, it isn’t without a few faults. My biggest complaint has been present with all of their releases. Legrand crafts some beautifully intimate and wide-ranging lyrics, and tackles huge themes song to song, from love to abandonment to the simple complications of human connections. And yet none of Beach House’s albums, including Bloom, ever makes a statement through theme that marries the entire record. The result is an album (while tied tightly together through a consistent emotional response to the dream pop) that feels thematically disjointed and a bit empty. This is only a problem if you sit down and read the lyrics along with the entire album, a problem that can be easily ignored by many, but when we’re talking about the great albums, a connective literary message that provides a hint of context for each track is necessary in order to be considered among the best of all time.
Another complaint I have with Bloom is the way the album says goodbye three times. I’m a sucker for closing tracks – a great one can guide the listener out of the record and tie back in some of the themes/sounds presented throughout the audible journey. The slower paced “On The Sea” is a smaller, more gentle song than the previous eight tracks and immediately signals the end of Bloom. It’s soft and touching, a perfect closer. Then the listener is hit with six and a half minutes of “Irene” which, once again, is a nice Beach House tune, but perhaps unnecessary after the subtle charm of “On The Sea.” On top of this, a hidden track pops up thirteen minutes and twenty seconds into “Irene.” The song acts like Salvador Dali’s melting of the standard Beach House sound. It’s slow, a bit off, and distorted like a record spinning incorrectly on a broken turntable. Like “Irene,” this hidden track is nice, and it fits into the world of Beach House surprisingly well, maybe even acting as a goodbye to the sound they’ve been working on since 2006. But as the third “goodbye” on Bloom, it comes across as exhausting rather than charming.
These faults aside, Bloom is Beach House at their best. Songs like “Myth,” “Wild,” “Lazuli,” “The Hours,” “New Year,” and “On The Sea” are leaps and bounds stronger than anything Beach House has released over their four-album career. Yes, they feel like extensions of songs from Teen Dream, but why is that automatically a problem and not something to be applauded? Teen Dream is about as close to a universally loved record as we’ve had in recent memory – Beach House took that sound and presented it even more effectively on Bloom. They’ve arrived, with three previous releases acting as an artistic road map for the journey they’ve taken to find, hone, and perfect the sound they always wanted to achieve.