There are certain bands that manage to simultaneously transcend the genre labels that critics try to fit them in while also ultimately being the bands that finally define that niche. Think about Arcade Fire for a second. Nominally, we might call them baroque pop, but eight years removed from Funeral
, "Arcade Fire" has virtually become its own subgenre of music for exuberant, communal displays of baroque pop pleasure. Sigur Ros are labeled as post-rock (a vague and ultimately meaningless bit of nomenclature if there ever was one), but today, they've become the shorthand for achingly beautiful and bombastic waves of almost heavenly sound. We could play this game all day. The point is that there are certain artists who are simply too ambitious and talented to be pigeonholed into any one niche, and they deserve a more substantive conversation about their music. It may be easy to call Bloom
from Baltimore duo Beach House "dream pop," but to do so would belittle the strikingly gorgeous and intricate album they've created.
It's impossible to discuss Bloom
outside of the larger library of Beach House music because, if anything, this album will likely come to signify the culmination of everything they had tried to achieve on their previous records. Starting with their self-titled in 2006, followed by Devotion
in 2008, and their major breakthrough Teen Dream
in 2010, Beach House has always seemed like a band that was working towards something specific. Their debut was an almost fully realized creation without any of the self-doubt and second-guessing that plagued so many other bands' debuts, and they've only grown more confident and self-assured since then. When Teen Dream
became one of the major success stories of 2010, no one who had followed their career was surprised because the work ethic and vision of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally had already become the stuff of whispered legend. So, perhaps the most surprising element of Bloom
is the way that it not only clears the bar set by Teen Dream
but it also perfectly sticks the landing on the other side.
From opener "Myth," Bloom
hits (insofar as Beach House can "hit") with more immediacy than anything that preceded it whose name wasn't "Norway."
The album seems grander and more ambitiously composed than before without managing to give up the stark beauty and ethereal wonder that has become Beach House's signature sound. Prepping for the release of Bloom
, I relistened to Teen Dream
several times, and where Teen Dream
left me with a sense of beautiful despair (think of the kind of emotional response that the Cure evokes), Bloom
honestly left me with the same kind of dream-like sense of pleasure that I got from Terrence Malick's Tree of Life
. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally transport the listener on a deliberately constructed emotional ride from "Myth" to "Lazuli" to closer "Irene" that reveals itself slowly but surely over the course of Bloom
and it would almost ruin the magic of the album to give away the hidden secrets this album reveals.
Even for those who have been skeptic of Beach House in the past and found their music to be just a little too "chill" and wanly atmospheric (statements I would never make but have heard cynics use in the past), Bloom
has the potential to be the album to change your mind. The songwriting is more direct. The melodies are more memorable. Victoria Legrand's voice is somehow even more deeply spiritual. "Lazuli" has become one of my most-played twinkling pop songs of the year. There are few albums I've listened to this year that are so masterfully constructed and such an unabated pleasure to listen to. Don't let someone tell you that Bloom
is just more of the same from Beach House. This is a band that has found the purest possible form of their music (and potentially dream pop in general) and pushed themselves to new creative heights.