As a child, I owned a small plastic piano whose notes rang with a distinct, tinny sound that I came to relish. Still now, as I run my fingers along its worn keys, the soft, simple melodies they produce cause a sweet, nostalgic yearning that never fails to move me. As a musical group, Beach House has always strived to tap into this resource: They deal in dreams and half-formed recollections, reverberations of a distant, sun-soaked past.
What’s more, after three albums worth of crafting these reveries, they have become very good at it. As their fourth and most recent album, Bloom sees the Baltimore duo perfecting the recipe for their particular brand of dream pop. In Bloom, Beach House doesn’t stray far from its original intent. In that respect, it seems that Beach House dodges the criteria of innovation or outside-the-box originality; yet this does not strike audiences as a flaw, as the public has come to expect from them not a fountain of boundless creativity but rather a precise and narrow emotive output that the group has come to master completely.
That is not to say, however, that they have remained complacent. From the pair’s first self-titled debut to 2010’s Teen Dream, the Beach House fan has seen the group tighten its style and perfect its emotional pitch. In the third album’s standout songs, such as “Silver Soul” and “Used to Be,” Beach House achieves a combination of endearing instrumental minimalism and delightfully lethargic cadence. In Bloom, they not only build on this sentiment, but also add several brilliant touches that help define the album as a distinct entity. Most noticeably, they dabble in more ambitious instrumental work that gives their sound an enthralling quality. From the cutesy, bubbly synth jingle that opens “Lazuli” to the droning radio static that kicks off the closer “Irene,” they manipulate sonorities that carry with them very distinct emotive cues. The percussions are also given an updated treatment, becoming much more assertive as they add drive to songs that rely heavily upon a rhythm of slow yet inescapable progression.
In this vein, we cannot help but notice that the lead singer’s voice is treated very differently on this latest work. From the start, French-born Victoria Legrand’s unique sound has been a major part of Beach House’s appeal, her nonchalant, sensuous whispers becoming a huge part of the grandiose, airy sound the group is so fond of. However, in Bloom, she has eschewed her usual lo-fi, fuzzy treatment for a more pristine, clear recording of her erotically irresistible voice. Now, we are hit with all of her unrestrained, full-throated energy and understated elegance, and the result is often jaw-dropping: In “On the Sea,” Legrand reaches out to us with an unexpectedly immediate and heart-wrenching affect. Lyrically, we are given more of the same: Images and connotations give us a vague yet overpowering impression of dreamy nostalgia, abandoning formal content for an almost completely instrumental treatment of vocal song.
On the whole, there are few standouts, which attests to the stylistic homogeneity that Bloom displays. The opener “Myth,” released earlier as a single, serves well as a lush, layered composition that sees Legrand’s beautiful voice fluctuating with quivering intensity. Again, “Lazuli” and “Irene” dig especially deep with their summoning of naïve euphoria and somber gravity, respectively, which are both very appropriate for their place in the logical progression of the album. After repeated listens, Bloom comes across, not as an accretion of discrete parts, but an organic whole; all of the songs evaporate into a delightful nebula of potent, intoxicating sensations, drawing from a well of almost tactile recollections of a distant, probably imaginary past.
The question, then, is what more can we expect of Beach House. If they are merely trying to voice the same emotional content that has characterized their earlier releases, and are simply getting better at it, inevitably they are going to reach some kind of near-perfect plateau of dreamy pop-rock. Maybe Bloom is that plateau. However, we would be underestimating their potential for renewal: The French band M83, which has been serving up the same kind of airy, daydream songs since 2001, recently released Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which has arguably become the group’s most successful and well-loved album thanks to subtle innovations that update its sound. Also, we should consider the possibility that this particular little batch of musical magic simply never gets old.