Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Bloom by Beach House

Additional reviews, lists and articles on my Arts page.
Bloom, the fourth release from Beach House, the duo of French expat Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, is another sweet slice of chiming, dreamy pop. The new album sticks to the same basic formula – ringing slide guitars, chintzy keyboards, and Legrand’s sumptuous and androgynous voice – while adding small tweaks (more percussion, an increase in tempos, and a still dreamy but generally more expansive sound) that help move them into slightly newer sonic territory.

These changes aren’t obvious right away: “Myth,” the first track, easily could fit on the duo’s excellent 2010 album Teen Dream (one of the most poorly named albums ever – thanks, Katy Perry – as it doesn’t hint at all at the sound within) with its opening dual guitar/keyboard interplay and the exquisite soaring guitar toward the end. But the next song, the excellent “Wild,” starts with a touch of Dead Can Dance drama with prominent percussion before more chiming guitar and dreamy vocals. Keyboards figure prominently on “Lazuli,” initially with a cheesy retro synth (right down to the ol’ arpeggiator feature) and then building to a more orchestral, fuller sound (although losing the melody a bit toward the end).

Legrand’s voice is a crucial part of the Beach House sound. I thought she was male when I first listened to the band, although some of the higher notes confused me. (I almost wondered if the voice was processed.) There’s a gender-free quality to her voice, an ambiguity that’s well suited to the material. She’s capable of beautiful pleading, such as on “Other People,” or soft melodicism, like on “Wishes.”

The album bogs down a tiny bit in the latter half – there’s a little too much sameness through three or four tracks here – but then redeems itself with the saloon piano and yearning voice in “On the Sea.” The only miscue, if you can call it that, is the final track, “Irene.” It’s a lovely track, with a repeated chorus of “It’s a strange paradise” that builds beautifully – but it’s also over 16 minutes long and almost half of that is silence, from 6:40 to 13:20 when the song starts up again. I thought we were done playing with the long silences/”extra” songs, especially now that the CD is vanishing! Good song but why tax people’s patience with the silence?

A great album for fans of melodic, soft, lo-fi pop. 

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