Beach House, the Baltimore duo whose sound has been relegated by indie media to the subgenre “dream-pop” for their entire existence, have nevertheless had their occasional dalliances with the mainstream. In 2009, Victoria Legrand contributed vocals to a track on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack, and in 2010 the band released Teen Dream, only to watch Katy Perry unceremoniously cop their album title eight months later. Call these top-40 moments what you will, but there is no mistaking the implications on the band’s sonic trajectory. As far as dream-pop is concerned, Beach House’s evolution from their eponymous debut to Bloom has been the transition from prefix to suffix.
Beach House’s stylistic dispositions were once an impediment to their accessibility. With the drum machines and gauzy reverb of Beach House and Devotion Beach House was essentially mood music for the hypnagogic. It was hard to imagine seeing the band playing a live venue, unless it was an unfinished basement and the audience had just popped a bunch of Lunesta. However, both a booming confidence in Legrand’s smoky vocals and buoyancy in Alex Scally’s guitar phrasing have propelled Bloom out of these formulaic limitations.
Although one needs point to Teen Dream as the inception of this equilibrium between hazy balladry and pop configurations, Bloom is by no means Teen Dream part 2. The diffidence Beach House exhibited on poppier songs on their previous album no longer hushes ambition. Instrumentation is key here. Though they still rely on drum machines, the incorporation of studio drums is crucial to just how three-dimensional the album sounds. The transition from mechanical beats to crashing cymbals and drum swells on “Wild” is my favorite example of hearing the band’s evolution in real time -– it is as if Beach House are acknowledging old habits but expounding upon them simultaneously. Additionally, Scally’s ear for succinct, rhythmic guitar hooks has also taken a perceptible leap forward. “The Hours” is straight up grunge before Legrand’s vocals begin, and the solo on “Wishes” could bring down any arena on a touring circuit.
Now, Victoria Legrand’s voice. What is there to even say really? Ethereal, regal, arresting? Adjectives don’t really do her justice, and it’s hard to maintain a removed, critical perspective when struck so viscerally by something. What I can say for sure, though, is that her ability to fashion a beguiling chorus has never been so impressive or consistent: “Other People” will stay in your head long after you put the album down, if that even happens at all.
Going down a checklist of what makes a successful pop album, you’d be hard-pressed to make a compelling argument that Bloom does not qualify. Every element is there, and when you hear Legrand cry “someone like you” over and over on “Troublemaker,” you can’t help the inkling that pop has permeated Beach House’s consciousness altogether.
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