Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Beach House - Bloom


We can always count on Beach House being reliable. No matter what the situation or pre-release single is, Beach House will always stun their audience with a piece of magic. Beach House have been consistent in the 'one year tour / one year recording' zone of artists, releasing albums on the even numbers (2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012). Time has passed since the atmospheric moods of Devotion broke onto our media players, but Beach House hasn’t changed - not in the slightest. The Baltimore duo have been bombarded by critical acclaim in every department, others have labelled them as 'one trick ponies' and moved onto the next 'buzz band'. When Teen Dream was released in 2010, Beach House became a force not to be reckoned with. All the original characteristics were there, it was just that extra bit of dynamics and intense synthesizer work that propelled them above pretty much every release from 2010. We also heard the first few transitions from the fundamental electronic drum machine to the real live studio drumming and percussion. Bloom has followed on from this and took it further with blistering noise and reverberation which makes Beach House sound like a new band emerging out of the darkness.

The initial reception and long-lasting acclaim of Teen Dream obviously influenced the duo to look no further than upcoming producer Chris Coady. Somebody then decided to record the album in Texas, wait, what? Texas? Are you serious! Yes, Sonic Ranch Studios… Obviously the place to be if you're in a dream-pop band. Nonetheless, I’m sure the influence of the 19th century towns and visions of El Paso left a mark on the duo's sound. It was later mixed in New York City, Electric Lady Studios. 

There's a certain sense of disbelief in the opening track 'Myth'. All of the synthesizer arpeggio's and electric guitar reverberation is all true and typical. With the whirling piano sound creating an extraordinary atmosphere between the simple, the heavy (loud drumming) and the soft guitar work. Atmosphere always crops up when Beach House are mentioned, and we all know why. It's because of the dreamy; blissful effect singer Victoria Legrand has upon the Alex Scally instrumental skills. There are moments of eccentric poetry within the lyrics. There's a very fine line between poetry and easy to foretell lyrics, "What comes after this, momentary bliss." Victoria never fails to disguise the lyrics with her earthly vocal. For weeks I’ve been hearing 'help me to marry', however she's actually singing "help me to make it." This track would be pretty standard if it wasn’t for the dynamic change at the two minute mark. The glazing guitar chords enter with a smack of delay and reverb with Victoria singing a very strange and rarely high pitched vocal with ease. Her vocal sticks in your mind as the track returns to its formality with even more soundscapes and vocal layers leading into the final minute of reverberation and guitar feedback with Alex Scally coming into his own, it's a fantastic opener.

You'll find yourself singing along to 'Wild' in no time. The harmonies are outstanding and redefine the complimentary term, beautiful. Victoria Legrand just has one of those voices only a certain number of people carry. She has the official elegant vocal of indie music, and what power her voice actually has when it's raised. Wild opens with lyrical simplicity and an organ drone that makes your ears bleed lust. The electronic drum beat makes a spectacular return with the bass drum and light percussion on the raised moments. The guitar soars through as Alex delivers one of his best riffs on the album. Victoria adds to the sound during the breaks with her eerie vocal which is soothing and emotionally pleasing. When listening to Beach House, it's as if all your problems have been taken away in a swift glide. The intense dynamic change creates a vivid atmosphere with the post-punk-esque guitar work. The structural changes conclude this track and at this point put's Beach House on a completely different scale of musicians, the musically skilled and the lyrically talented. The track ends with another blistering Victoria vocal which is repeated over the sound of the M83-esque synthesizer. 

The problem here is, there's no space to breathe. Beach House has always had a great sound, and beneath it is something simple and light going. Bloom doesn’t have that space; it's far too compact and heavy. This is partially due to the loud and abrasive drumming thumping in the background, but it's more aimed at the synthesizer drones that are at times, aimless. And pointless because all it does is add unnecessary noise. Teen Dream has areas of perfection when the noise was cut out and replaced with guitar rawness and realism such as 'Zebra' and 'Used To Be', Bloom is lacking that all round simplicity. 'Lazuli' is a perfect example of a Beach House track that has been magnified and drawn out and raised up beyond its limits. We get the three chord melody and harmonics which are expected, then the very basic vocal by Victoria which does have a hidden, secretive meaning and I must say fantastic imagery. The second half to this track is stunning, with the instrumentation readily laid out for Victoria to deliver her closing vocal of, "like no other, you can't be replaced." The vocal layers enter and the track fades out, annoyingly...

Other People is relaxing and has a very soothing melody. Alex plays a minimal part in this song as Victoria's synthesizer leads the way forward backed by the enigmatic drum machine and loud percussion. We also have a bass guitar in the recording! This really does add power to the mix, and it's not long before Alex comes in with another brilliant guitar riff that isn’t something for the reverb pedal. Other People quite simply have a soft feel with Victoria easing in her vocal with the childlike guitar and harmonies. Now we reach the half way mark, the peak period of Bloom. 'The Hours' has an absolutely amazing guitar riff which has just enough distortion and backing layers to give it that 'rock' sound. The structure is magnificent with a stunner of a chorus which Victoria delivers sensually. It's a truly outstanding track that deserves to be heard and played on the radio. You can't get better than this, you really can't. It's the clear standout on the album and one of the few that has the standard verse/chorus/verse structure. 

Unfortunately, the album does fade away pretty suddenly. That's not to say it doesn’t return with vigorous power towards the end, but it does dip in form. 'Troublemaker' does have a very nice guitar riff and vocal melody, but placed next to The Hours, it's becomes pretty bland. And we know that, it never really picks up until the final third where Victoria repeats a vocal refrain of, "someone like you." It's not the worst of Beach House tracks, but it doesn’t serve them any 'fair dos' either. 'New Year' has hints of sadness, but the array of feedback overpowers the delicate vocals. The electronic percussion returns, as do the arpeggios and Alex's melancholy guitar work. Victoria delivers an outstanding ethereal vocal that may bring a tear to your eye. The chorus has a further piano and synth drone as the track turns colder and darker with the shoegaze-esque guitar work.

We're into deep album territory now, with the prosperous 'Wishes'. It's much loved on the blogs right now for being another standout track-that-isn’t-a-single. The haunting vocals mix well with the utterly chilling guitar work which spirals out of control. The heavier side is euphoric with Victoria adding to the hazy atmosphere with her delinquent vocal. This track does pass you by, but the electronic arpeggio brings to life a different side of Beach House, the electronic side. Victoria sings as foggy as ever here with the final vocal refrain sending shivers down your spine as the track comes to a simple stop.

Teen Dream had the optimistic 'Real Love', so it's only fair Bloom is paired with 'On The Sea'. The spiralling guitar melody has its majority towards the right side of the track, whilst the keyboards are almost entirely on the left side. The track is climatic and has some miraculous lyrics towards the end with Victoria singing "whistle to a friend, gentle till the end, anyway in a name, she takes shapes just the same." The instrumental is melodic and Victoria has moments of pure sultry on this track when she's screaming out "the end", on top of this, Alex produces an outstanding guitar solo which is drenched in reverb. On The Sea ends lightly with the whooshing sound of what I can only describe as white noise mixed with a very windy beach front. It set's the mood the closing track 'Irene' very smoothly. Victoria enters straight away with a clear vocal amongst the hazy instrumental. The three chords make a physical presence and as they enter, a musical breakthrough happens. The drums blast onto the track with reverb which really gives the track a spacious feel. Victoria sings, "It's a strange paradise" with several other vocal tweets which I can't make out without a lyric sheet in front of me. The track comes to a steady halt with the drums pounding and the synth holding its ground with the monotonous dreamy guitar. Victoria returns with the aforementioned vocal and a simplistic four chord deep synthesizer and crisp electric guitar. A further piano and several more guitar layers enter as the track picks up with more energy and comes to a thunderous closing stop as the dreaded silence enters. 

Six minutes slowly pass with 50 minutes of elegance to reflect on. The 'hidden' track or Irene pt2 is melodic to say the least. The guitar work is very heavy and Victoria's vocals have been mixed to perfection with many layers on either side of the track giving it a certain feel of assurance. it's as if she's singing above the track actually looking down on the simple drum beat and soaring guitar work which Alex plays so softly and skilfully. It's only a couple of minutes long, but what it does is sum up the album entirely. It's the final mission, the last gasp... The closer. It's the last track begging you to return to the first track. And that's why Bloom stands out as one of the best albums of 2012. Like many albums, it has its flaws, fortunately for the listener... These flaws are in a minority and focus on one or two tracks individually and not affecting the whole album. The killer chorus on 'The Hours' is mesmerizing, as is the vocal harmonies on 'Wild'. The structural change on 'Myth' and the lyricism of 'Other People' all standout as huge positives on this album. It's wrong to compare Bloom to its 2010 predecessor Teen Dream, but I think you need to, just to grasp how great Teen Dream actually is as an individual product. Bloom is a message to the fans, telling them that the years of Devotion are over and the years of production and dynamic strictures have begun.
~Eddie

8.7

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