Monday, May 7, 2012

review: beach house- 'bloom'

So, my resolution to not track anything down early lasted about as long as it took for me to realize that once I’d pre-ordered this album directly through Sub Pop that I would not be able to stream the record while waiting for it to arrive. I have no willpower whatsoever and the reward of being able to listen to the record through an online stream while waiting for it to arrive was pretty much the only reason I pre-ordered directly from them anyway. So I got my grubby little mitts on the record early.

After listening to this record on endless loop for about a week and a half I can safely say that it’s every bit as addictive as any Beach House album is. As far as how it ranks against their back catalogue I don’t think it’s quite strong enough to dethrone the mighty ‘Teen Dream’ for the title of ‘Best Beach House Album.’ I’m currently trying to figure out if I rank ‘Bloom’ above the self-titled debut, but whenever I get into this ridiculous mindset I end up deciding that it’s completely pointless to rank a band whose albums I love so much. I’ve always considered ‘Devotion’ my least favourite album of theirs, but that’s really not saying much—I’ve still spent inordinate amounts of time listening to it on vinyl and on the go. One only has to flip through a few of my diary playlists to find plenty of its songs in my mixes. ‘Bloom’ actually has the most in common with ‘Devotion’ in that it’s a bit of a grower. My initial listen felt a touch lackluster, but as I continued to listen to the album over and over again each song seemed to present itself individually until I’ve reached my conclusion that the album’s consistency is what created the illusion of lackluster quality which was also my initial perception of ‘Devotion.’ This happens sometimes, who knows why?

Musically ‘Bloom’ is a great deal more upbeat than anything else they’ve done. ‘Teen Dream’ was their most unabashedly poppy album, but that sense of immediacy was always tempered by the thread of melancholy and dread that has always been an underlying presence on all of their records. Curiously neither ‘White Moon’ off of their iTunes session or ‘I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun’ (released as a free download on their website right before Christmas in 2010) did much to point the way to where they ended up here. Written on the road over the course of almost two years of non-stop touring that saw their fanbase explode at an incredibly rapid pace (in January of 2010 they were playing tiny venues such as the Bell House in Brooklyn and within a year they were headlining much larger venues such as the Trocadero Theater in Philadelphia), it’s an appropriately atypical ‘written on the road’-type of record. In keeping with such doubtlessly surreal conditions the album’s tracks are built on a sun-drenched brightness and vibrancy that channels the salad days of the Cocteau Twins—such an obvious musical parallel in retrospect that had always escaped me when trying to describe them. Most records that a band has written while on an equally grueling tour schedule don’t sound like this—it seems clear that they were able to enjoy the ride, which is refreshing for a change.

Even though I had already heard ‘Myth’ when it was released out of nowhere back in late February, it did little to prepare me for the rest of the songs. ‘Lazuli’ is built on a climbing keyboard melody wrapping around Alex Scally’s shimmering guitar textures. Scally and singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand seem to have switched musical roles here—where previously Scally did more to provide the bouncing melodies, here most of the melodic colour is provided by sparse but restless keyboard figures. ‘On the Sea’ is a nice example of the type of hypnotic trance that this dynamic whips up. ‘Other People’ takes on a dreamier shape from the live video that circulated on youtube. I didn’t recognize it until the vocals kicked in. Lyrically Legrand seems to delight in alternating between her typical impressionistic wordplay and more barren confessional type of sentiments—sometimes within seconds and sometimes in the same line. Initially I found the first half of the record to be the strongest, or at least the most accessible. Then there’s that ending couple of ‘On the Sea’ and ‘Irene.’ I am declaring right now that this is the strongest pair of ending tracks on any Beach House album. ‘Irene’ has replaced ‘Real Love’ as the most beautiful of all of their songs in my mind. When it drops into that Spacemen 3-esque drone in the middle only to kick back into the refrain as it soars and soars and soars and then bursts I have a difficult time breathing to get through it. Fantastic! ‘It’s a strange paradise,’ Legrand sings over and over again.

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