Since their 2006 eponymous debut, things haven’t changed much for Beach House. They still peddle in immense amounts of reverb, elementary drum machines, Alex Scally’s trilling guitars, and Victoria Legrand’s soaring vocals. But why should it change? Artistic “growth” is overrated when you create beautiful work. AC/DC managed to keep the hits coming until the early Eighties without changing any of its elements. On the other hand, bands like Interpol keep mixing up the beans, cheese, and meat of its music to diminishing results.
Thankfully, Beach House’s “Bloom” fits into the AC/DC mold. The band grows a little by stripping away some of the haze away from the vocals, improving production, and turning up the guitars. But this is more tinkering of the Beach House RV, rather than a new engine or even a different muffler.
Beach House performs the sonic trick of writing songs that paradoxically move and stand still at the same time. It achieves this by running the same musical motif throughout songs, while adding layers and layers of guitars, keyboards, and vocal lines along the way. Most songs have gauzy edges with low humming or tinkling keyboard spines that fill up the space in its otherwise threadbare compositions. It’s like lo-fi Impressionism. But instead of pictures of gardens and cathedrals, Beach House paints desperate peons to longing and isolation.
The album starts off on a good note with the celestial “Myth.” What makes this song wonderful and Beach House ultimately a vital band is what happens at the 1:25 mark. Like an advent calendar, it opens up another musical door to make the song sound richer, fuller and ultimately ebullient: even with the doleful lyric “Help me to make it” for a chorus.
Another compelling track worth of careful attention is “Lazuil.” It starts off with a keyboard riff that goes up and down a scale with a skipping beat in the distant background. Ms. Legrand’s wordless vocals burst in--almost like Enya’s coos—but an abrupt change in the melody scuttles any New-Age tendencies in favor of dark-tinged colors. The song also benefits from smart production. Every sound has its own topography, so repeated hearings (while concentrating on different instruments) reveals several “songs” within the song.
The next highlight is “The Hours,” which features an almost My Bloody Valentine-esque woozy guitar rippling through the song. This is perhaps the only song on “Bloom” that points vaguely at a new direction, in that it’s not clearly meant for close headphone listening (at least relatively speaking). It almost rocks. Almost.
The backside of the record continues with several strong songs, with the exception of “On the Sea.” It treads water for the first 2:30 minutes only to move into more interesting terrain that’s not quite the work to get there. And an otherwise worthy song, “Wishes” is marred by a horrible rhyme: “wheel” and “feel.” This might be a quixotic attempt to steal these lazy lyrics back from Gavin Rossdale, but as far as I’m concerned he can keep it. Despite these minor quibbles, if Beach House continues making records like this, it won’t need to grow. And the record buying public will be better for it.