(I cannot be held responsible for the mixed metaphors that follow)
Reaction to Beach House’s new album, Bloom, has been incredible. Half the world – both critics and commoners alike – hail it as their best yet, above 2010’s Teen Dream (and that topped many end of year lists, including mine). The rest, the other half of the world, see it as formulaic, inside-the-box, dull fourth album syndrome.
I see both points of view. Bloom is a fantastic, ethereal album. It certainly wrestles with Teen Dream for their best title, and should in turn rear its ridiculously photogenic face in this year’s best ofs. However, Bloom does raise concerns with the world Beach House and their peers inhabit at the moment: it’s almost too perfect, too pristine, and too polite. The cut of the jib has never been this sharp.
Opener Myth (you know, the one they gave away in advance ’cause, like, that’s what everyone does these days) lays out Bloom’s ingredients: off kilter chiming before lush guitars fill the backdrop, a beat slides in to hold it all together, and Victoria Legrand’s vocals ride in on a bass kick. With them, Beach House bake something entirely different on each track: by the second, Wild, the guitar suddenly soars above everything else; in Lazuli, the chorus is less vocals and more a vocal instrument of breathless “Oh”s, the rise and fall of twinkling keyboard keys breathing for them; and on it goes.
It’s charming, thoughtful and caring – Bloom wants to be your lover.
The standout is Other People, their sweetest and most moreish offering. It’s the track that holds together the best on its own, whilst also showcasing some of their tastiest aural treats: their biggest (and best) build up serves up the vocals first, before everything else floods the palate, only to drop out again and tease us for the chorus. It’s even on Other People that Beach House remind us they’re human and, dare I say it, have a little fun, with an ending that sounds like someone left the tape on on a seaside holiday.
That’s not to say Bloom isn’t human; it is. It’s charming, thoughtful and caring – Bloom wants to be your lover. Except maybe it’s too good to be true. You want to love them but can’t place your finger on any one thing: nothing’s sweeping you off your feet, it just feels right. And when you come back to it later, you feel safe and happy. Beach House’s trade off of using all their ingredients is Bloom initially feels impenetrable; each track seems a reasonable slice of cake, until you see how deep the layers go. No one thing is going to emote, evoke or provoke you, and in the hands of lesser beings this has grown tiresome over the last few years. Yet here each bite is all the richer for its complexity. Beach House invite you into their world, to come feel in their “strange paradise” (closer Irene), with the promise of something much better if you do.
Ultimately this is what Bloom asks of you, and as such your opinion of this album is going to be entirely dependant on how tired you’ve grown of diving through production values into dense atmospheric otherworlds. You’ll either be bored halfway through or put it on repeat. But if you took the plunge with, for example, last year’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver, you’ll find Bloom is a great album. Even if you don’t, it’s still clear Bloom stands at the pinnacle of their style. It’s time for the world to admit defeat and move on. And hopefully Beach House will too.
Critical: 5/5; Personal: 5/5
Picks: Other People, New Year, Wishes, Lazuil, Myth
4. Other People
5. The Hours
7. New Year
9. On the Sea