There's no mistaking Beach House. The Baltimore duo's shimmering keys, echoing guitar and wistful melodies are so well refined, they've become the standard of atmospheric dream pop.
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally began cultivating their approach in 2004, releasing two hazy, lo-fi collections that became instant underground favorites. But 2010's Teen Dream marked a sharp evolution for Beach House, a lush and expansive sound that, although polished, still maintained the fuzzy, distant quality of its predecessors. It was the band's most accessible to date, and the following months saw Beach House touring with Vampire Weekend, performing on Conan and headlining major venues in the country's largest cities. Nearly two years and 180 shows later, the duo stopped touring and settled into the studio to craft the follow-up.
In many ways, Bloom continues where Teen Dream left off. Fans will be more than familiar (and pleased) with the sonic outline: warm analog production, sweeping crescendos, otherworldly synths, vintage drum machines and the intoxicating alto of Victoria Legrand. But beneath the surface, there's a complex fabric of subtleties and textures that are distinctly Bloom.
"Inside, the songs are completely different," says Legrand in a tone that suggests she's grown tired of addressing the similarities.
"The worlds can be deeper, vaster, you know? For me, looking back at Teen Dream, I think of a simpler world. I don't think that those those songs necessarily have the depth that Bloom songs do. If you listen, really listen to music, and really listen to songs, you'll see that there are a lot of differences, that two things don't ever really sound the same. All the albums we've made, each one makes sense very naturally … I think every song has its own journey and intriguing narrative. It goes a lot of places that Teen Dream didn't.
"But that's the thing about an album: it's so abstractly specific to itself. It's like, the feeling, the size of it, the world of it, you know. It's hard to say in a few words, but when you're writing it and you're on your fifth or sixth song, as an artist, you start to really feel the universe and you know, 'OK, things feel like they're on this level. This song that we just finished, it went to this place. It started here and it went here.' Each album has its own language, you know?”
Indeed, while the comparisons are obvious and unavoidable, Bloom certainly occupies a space beyond the realm of Teen Dream. The interplay between keys and guitar weaves more expansive atmospheres, the rhythms are more intricate and prevalent, the hooks are more hypnotic and the lyrical themes are explored with greater depth. Bloom wanders deeper down a path already worn by nearly a decade of artistic exploration.
But the most compelling aspect of the duo's music has always been the intangible, yet inescapable mood that settles over listeners like a thunderstorm on a sunny day. There's an eerie familiarity to the feeling, a devastating joy that pulls the listener from every side. And that's where Bloom really stands apart. It's hard to put a finger on, but the mood is heavier than ever.
"It's the feeling of getting a complex ball of things flying through you," says Legrand. "You don't know what it is, but it kind of has everything inside of it. It's got rage, and then there's the extremely euphoric, but then also maybe it has sadness. You can't predict or say, 'I'm going to make this melody and it's going to sound like that.' But you know when it comes out of your mouth; it feels like that. It's a very unfair and awesome process."
Still, the complexity and emotional weight of the duo's songwriting is no accident. Legrand and Scally are highly selective in their approach, carefully choosing the tones that craft each sonic landscape.
"I think one sound can have an incredible wealth to it," she explains. "It can have emotional qualities, it can seem animalistic, it can have a wide range. It just has to be the right sound. And that changes song to song. So that's very thought out for us. But in the actual process, there is not a lot of intellectualizing going on. It is very much like, ‘Does this feel right? Does this feel wrong? Does this feel weird to you?’ … It is a very instinctual process."
Occasionally, Legrand admits, the duo struggles to keep things original. Just as Beach House will forever be associated with particular tones, so too will other artists.
"There's that thing where you find a sound and you're like, 'Oh, yeah yeah yeah!' But then it's like, 'Wait a minute, this sounds like this thing.' It would be so easy to take that sound, but we're just not into that. When we become conscious that it’s so clearly another band's, we just can't. It feels so wrong. … When you hear that type of sound, you know immediately. It doesn't even take a second. You just go the other direction. It's not something you have to have a f—king coffee and a conversation about. It's just done."
who: Beach House, with Zomes
where: The Orange Peel
when: Sunday, May 13. (9 p.m. $16/$18. theorangepeel.net)