Confession time: I wasn’t the biggest fan of Beach House’s 2010 effort Teen Dream. Despite being a follower of the band since their 2006 debut, there was something about Teen Dream that felt entirely too, well, polished. The production took the dusty, haunted quality of Beach House’s sound and smoothed it over until it sounded like a LP you might have found in the attic of your parents’ house, right next to the Stevie Nicks records.
After the massive critical and commercial success of Teen Dream, it became increasingly clear that the band wasn’t going to be able to go back its gauzy, low-fi roots. Thus, I found it difficult to muster much anticipation for their follow-up, titled Bloom. As is frequently the case, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bloom is, no exaggeration, one of the most beautiful-sounding records of the past ten years. It’s an album that was somehow impossible to predict Beach House would make and yet serves as the perfect summation of their entire career.
Bloom represents Beach House in Widescreen mode. Their canvas has never been bigger, their colors never more lush. We have gone from black-and-white to startling Technicolor. This is evident from the opening track, “Myth,” which envelopes the listener’s ears with escalating clean guitar arpeggios, the guitar an instrument featured more prominently in the mix than ever before. Live drums add to the feeling that the listener is experiencing a full-on band for the first time rather than a chamber pop two-piece.
Track two, “Wild,” is another early highlight and easily my favorite song on the album. Once again the guitars are noticeably louder than on any of Beach House’s previous efforts, yet it proves to be the perfect fit as Alex Scally creates evocative, heavenly guitar lines reminiscent of early Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals; lyrics like “The earth is wild/We’ve got no time“; and the woozy headrush of the band’s sound contribute to an almost-spiritual vibe.
The highlights continue with Victoria Legrand’s voice cascading like a waterfall at the start of “The Hours,” her “ahhhhs” soon giving way to Scally’s layered instrumentation. The dizzying keyboards of “Wishes” serve as a callback to Beach House’s first two albums, but they’re layered with acoustic plucking and live drums for a more expansive sound. Once the effects-laden guitars kick in after the chorus, it’s difficult not to feel like one is experiencing the rebirth of Souvlaki-era Slowdive.
As always, Victoria Legrand’s melodies are on point and her lyrics continually probe at “That moment when a memory aches” – a feeling of not-quite-nostalgia for the here and now, for the heart-pangs that will dissipate as soon as the sun comes up.
“How’s it supposed to feel?” she asks, but listening to Bloom we know entirely how. When the elements come together on a record as immaculately-crafted as this, an album can become more than an album. Bloom is a nothing short of a religious experience for dream pop devotees, a record that transcends both the trends and the times. This is one for the ages.