Premature Evaluation: Beach House Bloom
On 2010’s Chris Coady-produced Teen Dream, Baltimore’s favorite dream pop duo brought the reverb-laden sound they had favored on their debut Beach House and break-through follow-up Devotion out of the fog a little, creating the band’s most accessible (and most popular) album to date. It was, by no mistake, also the band’s most structured (read: expensive) undertaking, pairing the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally with Coady (TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear) and the budget of a big label (Sub Pop). It’s a record that can be described as the best Beach House record, at least by the rationale of a song-by-song appraisal; the whole slate of Teen Dream singles like “Zebra,” “Silver Soul,” and “Norway” are among the band’s most immediate, stand-alone tracks, while songs like “Walk In The Park” serve as spiritual successors to songs like Devotion’s gauzy fan favorite “Gila.” It also catapulted them into headliner status — when Teen Dream came out, Beach House was routinely opening for Grizzly Bear. Would that happen now?
Beach House’s Bloom ascribes to the tradition of Teen Dream, asserting itself as an expansive, pristine-sounding release from the first notes of first single and album opener “Myth.” If I didn’t fear that I was selling Bloom short — and I fear that I might be, at least so far — is that it’s Teen Dream 2, a record high on hi-fi ambitions while still maintaining a semblance of the hazy sorcery from its earlier recordings. Legrand’s voice — never a liability, as opposed to many indie rockers’ voices cloaked in curtains of reverb – stays within its comfort zone, exerting an almost-lazy prowess as she seamlessly slides in and out of hooks on songs like “New Year.” “Wishes” is a particular standout, perhaps Bloom’s tautest anthem, pairing a simple, ear-wormy melody, with a lush breakdown and a big bridge. The band, which has often rhapsodized about album openers and closers in previous interviews, picks another pair of doozies here, the immediate salve of “Myth” and the multi-chambered, secret-track-hiding “Irene.”
Though there seemed to be few critical qualms with Teen Dream, I’d imagine some people fondly remember, if not wholly miss, the majestic mystery of a record like Devotion, a record that completely exemplifies the overused “back porch,” sentiment, an intentionally laid-back recording meant to be peeled back and explored dozens of times in pursuit of new meaning or a poignant rephrasing. But, the move away from this atmosphere is in concert with a band striving to break new creative ground and work into more expansive, shiny tones. “We started to grow really tired of the kind of sloppy or fast sound of lo-fi that we were so into in the beginning,” Scally said in an interview conducted before Teen Dream was released. “Just that really fast thing where you try to catch a sound really quickly and try to capture this energy to it. It’s really amazing and so many people do it so well and it can be such an interesting thing. But for me, it just started to get really boring.” What feeds Beach House’s own aspirations is different than what feeds the fans’ emotional and personal attachments to albums, which can be a disappointing disconnect for listeners — not that Bloom is a disappointment or something, because it’s pretty great. It’s just easier to lend your imagination to records like Devotion, and make recordings their own singular continents; they force you to color in most of the sketch yourself, and you get to pick the colors. Bloom, though, is a calculated, articulate affair, all the way down to its release date; if Teen Dream summarized the oncoming breakout of spring and the repeal of winter (release date, 1/26/10), it could be argued that Bloom symbolizes the turnover from the elation of spring into the fever dream of summer. And, would you look at that release date.
Bloom is out 5/15 on Sub Pop.