The Wire, widely regarded as the best TV series of all time, is particulalry celebrated for its complex story lines, slowly coiling plot, use of authentic slang (only understandable via subtitles), and the way it mercilessly dissects a self-annhilating society from the bottom, with its petty drug dealers and tenement tower blocks, all the way to the top, to City Hall, and its array of corrupt, corrupting and soon to be corrupted officials. The system hangs together and blows itself apart. Set over 5 series, each one exposing a different segment of society, is the brainchild of duo Ed Burns (a former homicide detective) and David Simon. The other duo weaving something transcendental out of Baltimore’s murkey air consists of Victoria Lagrand and Alex Scally, but Beach House is far removed from The Wire’s ultra-realism. Indeed, if The Wire could be mistaken for a documentary, Beach House is its escapist dream. The Lord of The Rings to Tolkein’s experiences at The Somme, the dream into which Sam escapes at the end of Brazil.
Teen Dream was the surprise success of 2010, and looking back it remains the exceptional release from that year. The interplay between Scally’s simple guitar lines and Lagrand’s detached, arching vocals still feels revelatory, and the album continues to give 2 years on. As Teen Dream did with Devotion and Beach House, Bloom builds on the sounds laid down on previous outings, this is evolution not revolution. The charmingly lame programmed beats, the sparse guitar work, the organ stabs and Lagrand’s delivery remain the same. Album opener, ‘Myth’, even sounds like Teen Dream‘s breakthrough single ‘Zebra’. And yet, this feels like a very different album. Where Teen Dream sounded tentative (which was part of its appeal) Bloom is oozing confidence. The sound is richer, fuller and bigger, it’s the sound of a band tasting success and wanting more if it without betraying their basic ethos. Even the name, ‘Myth’, conjures up images of astounding feats, of gods playing with mortals. Indeed, it is those charmingly processed beats that keep the album anchored…that stop the valkyries from carrying it off to Valhalla.
Where Teen Dream (understandably) sometimes struggled to match album opener, ‘Zebra’ (though ‘Silver Soul’, ‘Norway’ and ‘Walk In The Park’ were all millimetres away), Bloom goes from strength to strength. The massively melancholic closing to ‘Myth’ leads into the lush ‘Wild’, a song that sounds like a ménage-a-trois between The Cocteau Twin, Disintegration era The Cure and early TV on The Radio. It is every bit as exciting as that situation suggests, and, no doubt, a career defining moment for the band. Initially, ‘Lazuli’, sounds like the opening arpeggio to Final Fantasy VII, and I’m back fighting Shinra and Sephiroth as part of an eco-terrorism organisation and breeding giant yellow racing birds, which seems to be the sort of mental trip Beach House want to take you on. ‘The Hours’ is monumentally poppy and accessible, which, for a band that revels in forcing it’s listeners to wade through thick, swampy layers of sound to reach the good stuff, is distinctly surprising. From there Bloom becomes a distinctly more sombre affair, the tracks less distinctive. ‘Irene and Wherever You Go’ is a satisfying coda. It’s very much as if Lagrand has found the peace she fails to capture throughout the rest of the second half of the album.
The thing about Beach House is that their basic sound is so pleasing, lush and yet so alien that on the first several listens it feels impenetrable. In fact, the band’s greatest weakness and strength is their impenetrability. Bloom requires effort, but the rewards, when they come (and trust me they come in spades) are truly worth it, and I’m certain that in a few years time the year 2012 will be synonymous with Beach House, just as The Wire is synonymous with Baltimore and unmatched excellence.
Release Date 14/05/2012 (Bella Union)