BEACH HOUSE: BLOOM (2012)
1) Myth; 2) Wild; 3) Lazuli; 4) Other People; 5) The Hours; 6) Troublemaker; 7) New Year; 8) Wishes; 9) On The Sea; 10) Irene.
For about fourty seconds, ʽIreneʼ, the last official song on this album, hangs on a single, extremely shrill, almost mind-torturing note, as if Victoria Legrand finally got stuck in her own loop and were only too happy to stick there for eternity. This only happens once, but it is still highly symbolic of the entire record. Bloom abandons any weak attempts that Teen Dream might have to broaden and stretch out the band's sound — and sticks to the good old formula, tried and true, more loyally than any Beach House album so far. Not only are the diligent duo not attempting at all to «progress»: on the contrary, they are doing everything in their power to let us know that here they are, and here they will stay. Apparently, for Scully and Legrand, this is perfection, and as long as they continue to make music, there is no need to move away from perfection.
I do not generally believe in remaking the same message ten times in a row, and I had hopes for at least another Teen Dream, where you could at least move from ʽZebraʼ to ʽNorwayʼ to ʽUsed To Beʼ without a feeling of being force-fed the same meal over and over again. No surprise that the first reaction was vicious hatred. Again, song ofter song that creeps along at a static midtempo, rolling over trivial synthesizer rhythms and minimalistic «heavenly guitar» countermelodies. Again, Victoria Legrand is playing her role of yer sympathetic ghost from the closet, blowing mystical fluff into your ears, seductive as long as you do not start interpreting the lyrics. Again, it all sounds imposing, important, and impervious, and the listener is manipulated into kowtowing before the stately, holy iciness... of whom? an exhausted, depleted one-trick pony? Come on!
Fortunately, once the initial disappointment sinks in and you realize that, after all, everybody has a right to the «AC/DC work method» as long as that method is applied to work, not just to dicking around, it gets better — much better. Eventually, it becomes evident that there is some progress, and that progress is in Legrand's ever-increasing skill of coming up with wonderful vocal melodies and delivering them with the experience of a well-seasoned sorceress.
And eventually, Bloom just emerges as a container of some of Victoria's subtlest and prettiest hooks. It's too bad that they are never used as song titles, triggering the memory centers with traditional pop ease. The album opener, ʽMythʼ, should probably have been called ʽHelp Me To Name Itʼ, because it is exactly the falsetto transition to that line that really «makes» the song, pushing it from «simply solemn» to «magically transfigured» mode. ʽWildʼ should be ʽGo On Pretendingʼ — there is a deliciously unresolved arcanum in the way she draws out that line, with maybe just the faintest tinge of irony, but well enough to separate the one cool fairy from a series of generic alumni of the Magical Mystery School.
ʽThe Hoursʼ, of course, should be ʽFrightened Eyes (Looking Back At Me)ʼ — and, while we're on it, it is hard not to notice that the opening aaaah aaaah harmonies are a direct reference to the Beatles' vocal arrangements on ʽBecauseʼ; not that this should surprise anyone, since, if there is one Beatles song that could serve as the blueprint for Beach House, it is ʽBecauseʼ (yes, yes, here again, John Lennon did it earlier and did it better, but let us not hold that against anybody). As a matter of fact, the song also has some of the finest guitar-based hooks on the album as well.
In the end, my personal favorite of the bunch has emerged as ʽNew Yearʼ. It isn't for much: you can't get «much» of any single song on here, but it beats 'em all in one ungrammatical line: "All I wanted comes in colors vanish every day", sung with such humane sadness that it gets real hard not to be moved. Sometimes one line like that is enough to distinguish the real thing from the facsimile, and this, mind you, is the real thing.
So, in the end, Bloom is a retreat from Teen Dream into more conventional territory — but it is like Devotion done really well, with better production, better guitars, better keyboards, fewer drum machines (the pssht-pssht effect is still present on a few of the tracks, but most of the time it's real drums), better vocal hooks, more credible sentiments, and, overall, simply more mature, as the duo's fairy-tale world enters adulthood and the protagonist, armed with extra spell credits, is now able to weave the love magic on an advanced level.
There are still a couple really weak songs here, I'd say, on which the hooks never succeed in materializing (ʽOther Peopleʼ, for instance, sounds too much like generic pop balladry, despite being arranged the same way as everything else), but that is, in itself, a sign of maturity — the very fact that, with such a similar approach to everything, some songs step out of the background and some do not means that the duo is now going for something larger than sheer atmosphere. Also, the silly old trick of adding a «hidden» track after about six or seven minutes of silence never truly works, because the track itself is easily the most boring thing on the album — but this probably explains why it was «hidden» in the first place.
But neither complaint will prevent Bloom from getting a thumbs up — and that title might even be justified, because you can really feel these two guys «blooming», self-assured and totally in control over their strictly limited, but honest trade. I'm glad I did not give in to the initial temptation of trashing the album. On the chronological scale, it is no progressive masterpiece, but in terms of sheer craft and feeling, it annihilates the band's first two albums, which now seem like half-baked, preliminary attempts to «get things right».
Check "Bloom" (MP3) on Amazon