The Washington Post

Beach House’s ‘Bloom’: Dreamy pop that’s stately, sumptuous and alert

With the notion of home and escape built into their band’s name, singer Victoria Legrand and instrumentalist Alex Scally of Beach House seem poised to build songs for us to luxuriate in. (Liz Flyntz/Sub Pop Records)

The Baltimore duo Beach House hasn’t really budged in the past two years. Still in Charm City. Still writing rock songs that settle over our ears like a perfumed fog.

The group’s superb new album, “Bloom,” sounds a lot like its gorgeous 2010 disc, “Teen Dream.” But somehow, it’s a more pleasing listen — like the mysterious epiphany that arrives when you rearrange the furniture in your apartment and it feels like you’ve invented a new home.

With the notion of home and escape built into their band’s name, singer Victoria Legrand and instrumentalist Alex Scally seem poised to build songs for us to luxuriate in. So you’ll have to pardon the overused Liz Lemon-ism when I say, “I want to go to there.”

Others have. Toronto R&B singer the Weeknd and Alabama rap duo G-Side sampled Beach House riffs last year, and critics have tagged the band’s moody aural mist as “dream pop.”

But across 10 tracks, “Bloom” manages to sound stately, sumptuous and alert. Scally strums his guitars in cathedrals of reverb, he presses colorful melodies from thrift-store keyboards, he lets his drum machines tick away like heirloom pocket watches. It all sounds like a Fleetwood Mac album going gloriously in and out of focus.

This is diaphanous rock-and-roll at a time when pop music seems increasingly immaterial. If we’re not gathering songs as little wisps of digital code and storing them in matchbox-size MP3 players, we’re borrowing them from “the cloud” — that billowing cumulonimbus of ones and zeroes that reportedly holds our future.

And while Legrand sings in a contralto strong enough to tether any song to the ground, she wisely refuses the role on “Bloom.” Instead, she floats alongside the music, camouflaging herself amid plush timbres and unhurried rhythms.

It’s rare to hear a singer who can fold her voice into her surroundings so gracefully, but here she is on “Lazuli,” the album’s most satisfying cut, repeating its lovelorn refrain 13 times: “Like no other, you can’t be replaced.”

It’s a lyric that should press down hard on your chest. But in Legrand’s throat — where sadness and sensuality blur — that melancholy evaporates. Why break hearts when you can vaporize them?

Scally provides solid sonic footing with “Other People,” a song with a crisp beat and sparkling chorus. “Other people want to keep in touch,” Legrand sings. “Something happens and it’s not enough / Never thought that it would be so much.” It might be a song about angst and ennui in the social-media age. Or it might not.

For other bands, those kinds of ambiguities signal wishy-washiness. But for Scally and Legrand, loose ends seem purposefully untied. They’re building songs in the space between reality and possibility.

It’s a space we could already be living in, if we’d just move the couch over by the window.

Recommended Tracks

“Lazuli,” “Other People,” “Wishes”

Chris Richards is The Washington Post's pop music critic. He has recently written about the best recordings and lyrics of 2015.
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