The ‘Bloom’ of Beach House

Courtesy of Sub Pop

The first time I ever saw Beach House was at Coachella in 2010; my friend Charles had encouraged me to check them out, and his music advice was as good as gold. I followed him.

As I stood in the photo pit of the Mojave tent, I had no notions of what to expect. Like most of the bands performing early in the afternoon, they were relatively unknown. I was quickly transported to another world by the music of singer Victoria Legrand and guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally. Giant, shimmering piñatas dotted the stage behind them, sending a smattering of copper and blue flecks of light across the tent like a cheap disco ball, while the melodies of an ethereal organ swelled and carried Legrand’s husky voice through the audience. I instantly understood why their unique brand of dream-pop was so appealing.

With their latest studio album “Bloom,” Beach House has evolved without changing their signature sound. The slow, hazy echoes of “Teen Dream” or “Devotion” have been tweaked slightly to add a more up-tempo rhythm, a beat that seems to carry throughout the entirety of the album. This album does not roll along quite as lazily as the last few, but the music is still enough to lull you into a dream state.

Legrand’s subtly gravelly voice is reminiscent of a more talented Nico (of the Velvet Underground), and stands in perfect contrast to the almost childish plinking notes of the organ or keyboard. The organ, which is always used prominently on their albums, lends a spiritual quality to “Bloom,” creating images of grand music drifting out of stained-glass windows. The keyboard, on the other hand, gives a distinctly more 1980s sound. When you combine the vibrating guitar, expansive organs and electronic keyboard notes with Legrand’s smoky vocals, you get the awe-inspiring, dreamy pop ballads that define Beach House.

“Bloom” opens unexpectedly with the dinging of a cowbell; things start to sound more familiar when the melody of the keyboard overwhelms the sound and ushers in Legrand’s voice, which hovers between highs and lows and booms with surprising strength.

“Troublemaker” begins with the eerie melody of the echoing keyboard, studded by the kick of the drumbeats. Legrand sings of love in the dark; “In the night we sleep together / The walls are shaking in their skin / Does it become you troublemaker / Watch them unravel you / Pulling everything apart.” The lyrics conjure up an image of some mischievous lover that taunts Legrand in her sleep.

One of the standout tracks, “Lazuli,” begins with what sounds like a prerecorded keyboard track, staccato and alone, as if someone pushed a button and left the room, letting the recording repeat. It’s quickly folded into the sweeping guitar and a shiver of cymbals.  The lyrics are not exactly revealing; “In the blue, of this life / Where it ends, in the night / When you couldn’t see you / would come for me / Wonder eyes, motion high / And I don’t dare, slip on by.”  But the words and the music still succeed at stirring emotions and fantastical images in the mind of the listener.

For anyone who has listened to Beach House before, it might be tempting to say most of their albums sound the same. That’s not the case. Legrand and Scally have simply taken a more subtle approach to their evolution as a band; instead of making great leaps and bounds in an effort not to stagnate, they have taken their whimsical dream-pop ballads and perfected them. Their sound might have seemed like a gimmick at first, but they have managed to follow up each album with even greater success. If you need more convincing to pick up their latest album, all I can say, in the immortal words of my friend Charles, is, “Listen to fucking Beach House, man.”

Rating: 5 out of 5