Staying in their comfort zone, making sweet lullabies
On their last album, ‘Teen Dream’, Beach House managed the transition to indie-darling status with uncommon grace. Abandoning the music-box murk of their first two records, the Baltimore dream-poppers used a lick of gloss to confirm what fans already knew: that, like Dickens’ Miss Havisham as played by Gillian Anderson, they were total foxes under that fusty bridal veil.
This revelation set the stage for a glittering return, and in many ways ‘Bloom’ doesn’t disappoint. Alex Scully’s guitar flickers like sad confetti on opener ‘Myth’, which retains the hi-def sparkle of the last record without especially adding anything new. Victoria Legrand’s exquisite vocal, meanwhile, slices through the poignant air like a knife through a wedding cake, flagging up death as a looming presence on the album: “You can’t keep hanging on/To all that’s dead and gone”. ‘Wild’ serves up flashes of dream-like imagery, while ‘Lazuli’’s effortless glide sounds a touch too much like ‘Norway’ off the last one, but still puts the screws on your heart with a gloriously twisty coda. That’s something of a ’House speciality, in fact. The band are increasingly clever at turning a melody inside out to evoke those moments of dizzy-making clarity.
‘Other People’ sounds like a shoegaze Fleetwood Mac, though by this point we’re yearning for a little of Lindsey Buckingham’s off-the-wall production genius, or at least a personal assistant to blow coke up someone’s bum à la Stevie Nicks. Crass image, but it does highlight a flaw in ‘Bloom’’s resplendent armoury: namely, that the band seem to shrink back into their comfort zone at times. You can hear it in the chintzy drum machine that underscores ‘The Hours’ and ‘On The Sea’, a rickety, lilting piano ballad that threatens earth-shattering greatness, only Scally’s guitar seems too tepid by half.
And yet: ‘Troublemaker’’s chorus will steal your heart and feed it back to you as a pink smoothie, with Legrand’s dusky enchantress tones put to devastating use. ‘New Year’ is absolutely haunting: “Stranger things will come before you/We keep these promises, these promises”. And ‘Irene’ is all cresting cymbal washes and deep sea dive melodies, with a finale that finds Legrand crooning “It’s a strange paradise” over and over until it feels, well, strange.
And if at times there’s the insuperable urge to hear another instrument tossed into the mix – Alex James on cheesegrater, perhaps, or Scott Walker cheerily socking it to a pig carcass – there’s also pleasure in hearing a band do what they do so peerlessly well: croon sweet, sweet lullabies to console us in our fleshy prisons.