Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beach House's Bloom captures dream pop's overpowering essence

Sometimes when I listen to music I see colors, although typically it's just whatever color the album art is. I've mentally tinted Jack White's Blunderbuss with a dark blue shade, while Fiona Apple's latest bears the tan and light brown hue of a brand new bookshelf. So imagine what an album like Beach House's Bloom does to a mind like mine.

When listening, I picture myself swimming through an ocean darker than a night sky with thousands of white dots floating all around. It's like being a jellyfish in an exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium. Rarely has an artist crafted a sound so deep and expansive as what Beach House has put forth here.

Multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally builds the backbone of the band's sound with dreamy guitar washes and lushly melodic keyboard rhythms, while Victoria Legrand commands the listener's attention with a voice that is majestic, graceful and soothing. Whenever I listen to her, I tend to picture her in royal purple robes wearing a crown and pointing a scepter in my direction.

It quickly becomes clear that the duo have made big improvements since 2010's Teen Dream, a record I was honestly never able to get into. It felt like it wandered, took too long to make its point, and sounded rather thin. No such issues exist on Bloom. The hooks are much stronger, the sound is deeper, and the effect is more pronounced.

"Myth" opens with a shimmering guitar pattern that sets the stage for Legrand's reverb tinged vocal, which sounds dynamic enough to absorb the whole world. The tremolo guitar solo that closes the track is one of the most brilliant musical moments this year.

The ball keeps rolling on "Wild," whose ominous verses are offset by its ethereal, floating chorus. It's helped out by a fantastic bridge section. It contains only a single synthesizer note backed by the pounding of the drums, while Legrand's voice floats up like mist from a cauldron.

Then ,of course, there is the lead single "Lazuli." This one takes a little longer to get started, but when wave after wave of vocal overdubs hits near the end of the song, the effect is simply mistifying.

Speaking of which, the entire album has a habit of building up to really nice endings. "On the Sea" begins as a simple piano ballad, but as it nears its close it introduces an extra keyboard layer and tremolo guitar strumming to establish a more dreamlike effect. I haven't heard a band this good at closing out songs since Interpol on their exceptional debut Turn on the Bright Lights.

Another plus with the album is its consistency; it never loses steam or begins to drag. "New Year" is as serene as an early morning trek along the shores of Maryland. "Other People" astounds with its sense of intimacy, and closer "Irene" is overpowering with its late 80s Cocetau Twins post punk sensibilities. Legrand's coos of "It's a strange paradise" will find a permanent place within your dreams.

The greatest works of art, no matter the medium, are those who build vast worlds to get lost in. Beach House have done more than simply craft songs; they have created a force that literally sounds like it is trying to take over your speakers and make you come along. Once you've climbed into the world of Bloom, I'll be damned if you get an urge to leave anytime soon.

Score: 94/100

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