Ah, the musician’s paradox: If you don’t change, fans call you stagnant. If you change too much, they stop listening all together. The bigger the band, the bigger the dilemma. Do you continue making music that sounds like the stuff that won your followers or do you try to innovate and risk alienating your fans? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Color Beach House damned. The dream pop duo has recorded an album that is spotless from start to finish, an unquestionably beautiful collection of songs. But man, does it sound familiar.
“Writing about us, people have said: ‘Do we need another album by this band?’” guitarist Alex Scally told Pitchfork in a recent interview. “What the fuck is that? That only matters if you’re just listening to sound. Did anyone ever say, ‘Do we need another album from the Beatles?’ It’s this pathetic era we’re in where people are like, ‘I’m done with them, I need a new sound; I’m a baby, I need something every five minutes.’ A lot of people listening to music now don’t listen to the songs or lyrics at all. They just go, ‘Good tones…’ and that’s it. But we’re obsessed with songs. Sometimes, I feel like people aren’t listening to our songs, they’re just listening to the sound.”
So of course – of course – the knock on Bloom, Beach House’s fourth full-length release, is that it sounds too similar to the band’s earlier work. The band predicted the reaction and tried to nip it in the bud, but the idea is around every corner; on the surface, and even a bit below it, Bloom sounds a lot 2010 standout Teen Dream. Which is to say that the record is excellent and dreamy, and head and shoulders above most music being produced in the genre today. To describe any discontent with the album’s familiarity as backlash is overstating it. Even listeners who lament the lack of an audible shift do so with a sense of admiration. “It sounds the same,” they say. “It sounds like a wonderful Beach House album.”
It’s tough to blame listeners for getting lost in Beach House’s dreamlike tones – though the band may not love the approach. From the opening notes of album kick-off “Myth,” Bloom whisks you away, recalling the ethereal mood of Teen Dream before it. “Drifting in and out,” sings Victoria Legrand, seemingly doing so herself amidst Scally’s subtle and surprisingly nimble guitars. Organs and understated drums mix with the lithe guitars and Legrand’s formidable, dark chocolate voice to envelop you, wrapping you in a warm haze that seems to pull you ever closer. Though the album’s lyrics speak to long-gone companions, there’s a sad sort of comfort here.
So it goes with many of Bloom’s standouts; tracks like “Lazuli,” “Troublemaker,” and “Other People” swaddle you with sound, as if to remind the listener that they’re not alone in feeling lonesome. It’s a cold landscape that Beach House evokes, but not a bleak one. And across ten tracks – eleven if you count the hidden track on “Irene,” a callback to another era – the album never missteps. “The Hours” provides a shot in the arm a few tracks in. “Wishes” is a starry track that perhaps best replicates the band’s live sound. “Wild” is Beach House at their most luscious and lucid. Bloom, like its predecessor, is bliss-inducing.
Yet despite all of this talk of similarity, there’s something different this time around. When I first heard Teen Dream, it took my breath away. Here was a band that had grown into its own and built upon ideas previous albums had only teased and hinted at. Teen Dream was a true blossoming of concepts, a congealing synthesis of the potential of Beach House and Devotion. This time around all the parts are there, but the whole feels like less of a revelation. Just as experiences dull with repetition, music loses its mystery the longer it stays still.
Just about every review of a Beach House record you read will focus on its emotion from the perspective of sound. These are not lyrics that beg for constant exposition. Instead, they evoke a general feeling, as if narrating a landscape that needs little description. Though the pair would prefer you focus on their songwriting – and Legrand’s lyrics are beautiful – it is the overwhelming aesthetic that defines this band. Bloom is beautiful. And I’m sure I’ll play it many times in the years to come. But, shallow though it may be, the second time you take a journey rarely matches the thrill of discovering the path the first time around.