Sometimes certain music, regardless of its lyrical content, manages to strike a transcendent, spiritual chord simply due to its ability to tap into what seems to be an otherworldly realm. Beach House’s fourth album, Bloom, much like Bon Iver’s self-titled album of last year, belongs in this category. Brimming with breathtaking melodies and harmonies, Bloom allows Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand to play off each other beautifully, his guitar and her voice intertwining to hoist their regretful, hopeful songs to the skies. The songs shimmer and shine, so much so that it’s occasionally difficult to crack the enigmatic exterior, yet the album’s treasure is well worth the hunt.
A distinct theme does not immediately surface upon first listen through Bloom, as the pulsing, haunting music often overpowers the whispered lyrics. Give it a few more spins and Bloom, at its basest level, seems to be concerned with the past and our various relations and reactions to it: fear, anger, nostalgia, regret, disappointment, etc. For example, lead single and opening track “Myth” offers up the following lyrics: “Can’t keep hanging on to all that’s dead and gone/ If you build yourself a myth, know just what to give.” The band piles layer after layer of sound over the melody, mirroring the way that we construct our own identities, creating often impenetrable barriers of our own versions of the past to reconstruct or forget what has come before. Similarly, “Wishes” evokes the past—“the moment when a memory aches”—to lament a lost love perhaps, or some other kind of experience that can never be realized again.
Interestingly, like the majority of the album’s music, “Wishes” finds its sonic backbone in background loops, which create a sense of déjà vu, the musical repetition contradicting the lyrics–the impossibility of regaining the past is palpable. Indeed, the album continually references memory and old relationships gone awry, and the overall sense of regret resonates deeply. “Other People,” for instance, launches into a glorious chorus, musically and lyrically, which finds Legrand contemplating the mystery of changing friendships: “Other people want to keep in touch, something happens and it’s not enough/ Never thought it would mean so much…was it ever quite enough?” The bridge repeats this final question, weaving it among other airy vocal inflections; it flickers in and out of consciousness, a pained question that has no answer—for some people, the band suggests, nothing is ever enough. But Bloom is concerned with more just than the difficulty of coping with the past; the fleeting nature of time itself is another theme. “Wild” begins with a tale of the past, before the chorus, over galloping drums and atmospheric guitars, provides this remorseful statement, “The earth is wild, we’ve got no time.” Indeed, if anything, the album is so caught up with what has come and what is to come that it ignores the present.
Yet, Bloom’s penultimate song, “On the Sea,” offers a redemptive take on time and how humanity interacts with it. Backed by a lilting piano, Scally and Legrand paint a musical picture of a raft floating on the waves. The song subtly builds over its five minute running time, before slowing to a stop, leaving only the sounds of the ocean. This peaceful reverie helps drive home the song’s point, which is stated quite early on, “Out on the sea, we’ll be forgiven.” It would seem that in the midst of our painful memories of the past and anxieties about the future, silence, calm, and the natural sublime are our only hope of finding some perspective–consequently, the beginning of forgiveness and hope. In many ways, like Sigur Ros, Beach House carves out a meditative space with their music, forcing us to really listen and pay attention to what is happening underneath the veneer of their songs.
Bloom’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, as its subtle reservoir of meaning is not easily tapped into and its music can, if not listened to carefully, blend together into one giant song. Yet, also like the music of Bon Iver and Sigur Ros, I believe that cultivating the ability/energy to properly appreciate these beautiful—at times, transcendent—artists is worth it. It’s not always the easiest thing to do (and I am certainly no master) but such beauty deserves our attention and might even help us take some time to properly situate our past within the present and the future that lies ahead.