Beach House – Bloom

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1. A little economics lesson is in order, I suppose, since it’s fitting with most artists who are incapable or otherwise unwilling to change their sound. The law of diminishing marginal utility states that as one increases consumption of a product (in this case, listening to Beach House songs), there is a decline in marginal utility (pleasure) that that person derives with each additional unit consumed. It’s like tequila shots. The first one tastes great, but by the tenth, you’re covered in your own vomit on a subway ride home at 1 in the morning.

2. This is Beach House’s fourth album and their song formula has remained unchanged. Add one part drum machines, add one part melody from Alex Scally via keyboard or guitar, add one part grainy voice from Victoria Legrand and sprinkle some Elizabeth Fraser while you stir slowly. To be fair, it has worked in the past, especially with Teen Dream, and when the really basic drum suddenly kicked in partway through “Zebra,” it was a testament that music need not be complex to be beautiful.

3. But the problem with Bloom (which Teen Dream was also guilty of, but to a lesser extent), is that I want something different halfway through listening to the album. Moreover, you could shuffle these songs with those from Teen Dream and had I not familiarized myself with the tracks on both, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which is which. Which is strange, considering just how different the covers are. Teen Dreamwas swirls of different shades of sand (at least that’s what it looked like to me).Bloom‘s cover is the exact opposite, it’s black and white and the contrast is sharp. The album suggests a completely different atmosphere than that of Teen Dream, and the band itself have stated in an interview with Pitchfork that they wanted it tosound dark from the title, “It’s funny that everyone’s obsessed with the idea that it has to do with flowers because we thought it sounded dark. The word is like an object– we were thinking ‘bloom,’ ‘doom.'”

I think it’s safe to say that no one made that ridiculous association.

4. That being said, the band does try writing darker lyrics. Take “Wild,” for example, which features the opening couplet, “My mother said to me that I would get in trouble / Our father won’t come home, cause he is seeing double.” It suggests a broken household, either because an abusive father or a father who abuses alcohol. But I don’t feel anything, because their music always puts an emphasis on the word “pop” in “dream pop,” as opposed to say, Cocteau Twins, who obviously influenced the band, and as Fraser has proved, you don’t need to sound coherent to sound dark. You just need to sound dark.

5. You’ll imagine my surprise at looking at the tracklist and times before I heard the album. Closer “Irene” lasted a good 11 minutes more than any other track here, and I was excited to hear how the band would pull off something 17-minutes long. It would’ve been completely different than anything else in their repertoire, but nope. It’s a hidden bonus track after a long silence, the type of thing they used to do before the digital age made that obsolete.

6. But the band’s forte is Victoria Legrand’s ability to turn simple hooks into exhaled clouds, and there are some wonderful examples of that in Bloom that do make it worth keeping: opener and lead single “Myth” has her launching into a falsetto for the “Help me to make it” bit, as well as employing cowbells, something that wasn’t heard on Teen Dream and a nice addition; Alex Scally takes a rest for the pre-chorus of “Other People” so that Victoria Legrand can sing “Other people stay in touch” and it’s probably the most touching moment on the album (though it’s a shame the band sticks a pointless 20-second outro that doesn’t even try to segue into “The Hours”); “Irene”‘s “It’s a strange paradise” might be the most melodic one on the album, but it’s a shame the band tried repeating one single chord over and over to build up anticipation to it – the trick plays out well before she’s allowed to enter.

7. In that same aforementioned interview with Pitchfork, Alex Scally said some pretty ridiculous things, and each time, Victoria Legrand had to say something to compensate for it. My favourite part when Pitchfork asked: “Have you ever gotten the urge to change the way your music sounds?” Alex Scally responded with, “We are not making some sort of conscious choice, like, “Let’s stay the same.” I hate it when bands change between records. They’re thinking before they make music.”Victoria intervened, “Which works for different types of artists, because they’re more intellectual.” But Scally went on anyway, “Writing about us, people have said: “Do we need another album by this band?” What the fuck is that? That only matters if you’re just listening to sound. Did anyone ever say, “Do we need another album from the Beatles?” It’s this pathetic era we’re in where people are like, “I’m done with them, I need a new sound; I’m a baby, I need something every five minutes.””

Ignoring how condescending to your fans that response was, the thing is, Mr. Scally, that the Beatles changed their sound with practically every album since Revolver (for arguments sake, but we can even go back to Rubber Soul). Actually, with The Beatles [White Album] and Abbey Road, you could say that they changed their sound with every song.

And as for your description of the title, and how “[i]t encapsulated tons: the bloom, the end of the bloom, and then coming back the next year,” you do realize that very process you described involves change, right?

B+

 

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