It took me a couple of weeks to fall in love with Teen Dream early 2010, but once I did it became one of the most passionate affairs I’ve had with an album since the eighties. I immediately bought Beach House’s first and second album and even though the differences are subtle they did not touch me on the same emotional level as did Teen Dream. I knew then that no matter how brilliant Victoria Legrande’s and Alex Scally’s fourth album would turn out, a certain degree of disappointment would be inevitable. After all, infatuation is all about timing, the position of the moon and elusive circumstances like that.
A rickety organ, an ancient rhythm box, a plinky plonk guitar and Legrande’s deep androgynous voice, the main ingredients of Beach House’s distinct sound are still very much intact. The same goes for the general sentiment: romantic melancholy wrapped in distant reflection. The musical evolution of the band is still minimal. You could argue that the instrumentations on Bloom are slightly fuller than on Teen Dream. Especially the rhythm and keyboard soundlibrary seems to have been expanded. It makes Beach House’s fourth effort sound more majestic than its predecessor, without compromising the clarity and simplicity of the songs. In fact, the songs on Bloom are even more deceptively poppy than on Teen Dream.
If Legrand and Scally were stunned by the success of their third album, it doesn’t seem to have much effect on their studio work. Bloom is clearly the product of a band that is happy with their way of songwriting and recording and doesn’t feel any pressure to please or shock their increased fanbase. In contrast to the band’s self-confidence as a recording act, last Saturday during their performance at the sold-out old hall of the Melkweg, I got the feeling that Beach House were over-exploiting the dark shoegaze stance. Against a decor that reminds me of Blade Runner, on a sparsely light stage the only thing that is clearly visibly are the contours of Legrande’s large shoulder pads. All performances by Beach House are primarily static and without much interaction, but two years ago it felt less like a pose, than last Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, the set list consists mainly of songs from the last two albums. The band play only two songs from their second album (Gila & Turtle Island) and none from their self titled debut. The set starts with Wild, the second song from Bloom. It’s a lightning example of pop noire, that is followed by the familliar rhythmbox intro of Walk in the Park. Short after, the serene sighs of Legrande prelude the ominous distorted guitar of Norway, which is followed by a soothing new song called Other People. It won’t be long before I will have forgotten which song was on which album. They are interchangeable. Beach House is one of only a few bands for whom this is a possitive.
I managed to write my review of Teen Dream with only a single reference to another band: Hall & Oates. I don’t know if it’s because of the instrumentations are more varied or because Legrande now and then replaces her contralto for a higher register, but Bloom sounds less like a musical island than its predecessor. The songs make me think of a range of eighties and nineties acts, from the Cocteau Twins, to Kate Bush and even Clannad. Perhaps it’s because of these lighter notes on their new album, that the band from Baltimore feel they have to create a live show so grave it would have made the Jesus & Mary chain look like a dance band. Luckily, during the encore, the padded jacket finally comes of and we can enjoy the silhouette of Victoria Legrande doing some wild head banging from behind her keyboard. More, I want more I tell you.