BEACH HOUSE - BLOOM - A REVIEW
So as to address the transatlantic imbalance, the next two LPs that are exciting me at the moment come from the
US. Both affiliated with the
wonderful Bella Union record label (as it is known in the UK) which has been a
recent hotbed for outstanding alternative music, Beach House and The Walkmen
look set to produce amongst some of the most influential records of 2012; that
is if all the anticipation has been anything to go by. First of all, a review
of Beach House’s Bloom...
I like what the duo from Baltimore, Beach House, stand for. Their musical representation is minimalistic with their central tenet of song construction being that of simple, yet exquisite texturing of synth, drums and cyclical guitar and piano hooks. With these basic ingredients, the archetypal Beach House track will incrementally build before culminating in their other-worldly sound which has earned them so many admirers. Rather akin to that of their abstract expressionist American counterparts – Rothko; Pollock; Newman – Beach House continue to produce music that spins the listener into a centrifuge of abstraction leaving behind only that intangible negative space which is what every Beach House fan has grown to love.
Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand of Beach House have been forthcoming in raising their concerns surrounding the maintenance of an “artistic integrity” in the modern music industry. In an environment where artists come under such high degrees of media scrutiny it is easy to see why these two are cautious to disclose too much personal information and uphold a healthy scepticism of social media. If they had it their way, Beach House would use their music as the sole means by which they connect with their audience; even in their live performances they play hard-to-get with their phlegmatic demeanour and monochrome set and dress sense. This all paints rather a dull picture; shouldn’t they be doing more to win us over? Well – not at the moment, at least. What the pair believe is at stake for them is the loss of their mystique that has been generated from their last two albums and not only would this detract from what they do best, but would in fact erode their artistic ideology. This way of thinking could be perceived as being a little bit “too cool for school” from some quarters but I suspect that it is genuine and even a vague attempt at being showy would be considered gratuitous and would force them firmly out of their comfort zone.
All of their four albums to-date directly descend from this sense of uncertainty and caution about the world and Bloom, to me, represents an albeit measured progression along this same line. Legrand’s plaintive and fragile vocals really come to the fore on this album and she has become a master of those deliberate, slightly off-pitch notes that hold so much sway with the listener. Whilst there are no tracks on this record that are quite as immaculate as Zebra (Myth does come close), the record fits together more seamlessly and is awash with yet more of those hooks and dreamy synth that we have come to expect. It is certainly a more accessible record than Teen Dream; tracks such as Lazuli have an instant impact with Scally’s gorgeous guitar melody over which Legrand’s vocal, “like no other you can’t be replaced,” grows in significance with each repetition at the song’s climax. New Year is but another example of how Beach House reel one catchy hook after another off their seemingly endless melody by numbers production line.
It is a strange irony with Bloom being released in springtime - a period of optimism and when this part of the world is almost fully in blossom – that the duo were quick to dispel these positive sentiments. Instead, they are keener to focus on the more sinister aspects of the word; the organic and most human of notions that nothing is permanent; everything comes in cycles; everything has its time. From the micro-scale loops and repetitions that underpin a Beach House track through to their wider reliance on the same basic elements for song and album construction, Beach House are themselves, a cyclical entity. Perhaps Bloom – their most manicured and most accomplished record to-date – represents the ultimate distillation of their musicianship. Perhaps Bloom does in fact represent them coming to the end of a cycle?
So as Beach House bask in what they might unashamedly express as their Indian summer, they will inevitably have to make some difficult decisions. It is unquestionable that they are very good at what they do – there is perhaps no one better – so why, one might ask, should they change anything? Wonderful though Bloom is, there is only so much repetition of repetition that one can take and I fear that a similar progression for a fifth record could start to alienate even the most ardent of fans, like myself. I fear they may have to step out of their comfort zone somewhat to find a new musical direction. Given that they acknowledge their own “bloom”, and given their talent and thoughtful, introspective nature, I have little doubt they will be able to succeed in doing so.