Thursday, June 14, 2012

Frozen Music: Beach House's "Bloom"

I was considering Beach House’s Myth as I wandered though a disconcerting, labyrinthine mosaic of kitchens and bathrooms. Most of the designs were quite extravagant, and they changed in the blink of an eye. Hardwood floors under white marble would transform into deeply textured granite over patterned tile. Glass backsplashes gave way to smooth river rocks, and although the cabinets retained the same physical shape, they varied wildly in hues that exploited the potentials of the wood spectrum.

This may sound like a scene from a David Lynch movie, but it adequately describes the grueling design meeting I was in with our house builders.  Obviously, I needed a break.  I felt quite sure that I had spotted a coffee machine when my wife and I entered the design center, but alas, that was four hours previous. When I found the pot its contents were painfully cold. I remained undeterred, though, and I fumbled through the unfamiliar controls of a high-end, but functional, microwave to warm it up.  Two minutes to think......

Like Lynch’s work and, consequently, Angelo Badalamenti’s, Bloom has a lovely veneer that seems to harbor a melancholic and perhaps ominous undertone. Although its misty textures are its most prominent feature, the individual songs are brought into sharp focus by the band’s keen melodic sense. Eloquent guitar work weaves the vocals to a radiating aura of keyboards, underpinned by loping, fluid grooves that don't propel as much as undulate. As a band, Beach House never quite erupts into a driving backbeat like Mew is known to do, but they capture a similar oneiric quality.

The accepted idea of what a "band" is, however, has changed pretty dramatically in the past decade. Beach House, for example, has no dedicated bass player, and for a band that emphasizes atmosphere so strongly, that's kind of an issue.  It is not unusual for current groups to sequence parts that, in the past, would have been played by a live musician.  Beach House's solution compliments their aesthetic beautifully.  The low end is handled by a set of Taurus-style foot pedals that guitarist Alex Scally plays while sitting (watch that first video again closely). The buzzing analog synth provides a satisfying and distinctive foundation for Beach House's bleak texture.

Goethe once famously said that architecture is like frozen music, the kind of deep metaphor that only a true polymath could make.  Like a house, music can be constructed out of  a multitude of materials.  As long as the dream home stands strong enough to be lived in, the details of its construction are an expression of personal aesthetic and circumstance.  Beach House's instrumentation has a positive and global consequence on their sound.  It is a subtle but absolutely necessary aspect of their identity.  At the heart of Bloom, however, lies consistently superior songs and poignant performances, and that makes the album a compelling experience worth dwelling within.

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