In March 2012, nearly two full months before its scheduled release date and just days after it was announced, Beach House’s Bloom leaked on the internet. “Each of our albums has [been leaked]“said singer Victoria Legrand The Guardian in an interview later that year. “It’s a bit of a trash. There’s this mentality of wanting to be first. I hate to use the word greedy, because I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s catchy. It’s like, ‘Give me All the freebies now! I want the freebies now, Mom! Part of it is a weird form of flattery, but I can’t help but feel a little offended. I want people to get excited — to get the vinyl, hold it in their hands, read the lyrics. These are the things I did when I was 14 and you can’t seem to do anymore. That’s why live shows are so important You can’t leak a show.
I was a freshman at the time, unhealthy obsessed with teenage dream and running an extremely amateurish album leak blog that no one actually reads. (It may or may not have been named after a lyric by Flaming Lips.) Of course, I downloaded and listened to the leak voraciously before re-uploading it to Mediafire. Legrand would have been disappointed with me, I’m sure. But an unlikely hero has emerged from the depths of Stereogum’s comments section: a man named Joe Howse who dared to do the right thing, a bulwark of patience standing tall against the forces of human avarice. MP3 era. If you look back at the site’s premature evaluation review of the Bloom leak, you’ll see Joe Howse’s comment at the bottom: “I’m not going to listen to the leak. I’d better wait until I can go to my record store on May 15th.
Joe Howse, the tallest man alive, instantly became a minor Stereogum meme. “I once ate pizza with Joe Howse. he pretended to be full so I could get the last slice,” one commenter joked. he was driving 70 on a freeway at 65 mph, and he immediately slowed down, drove to the nearest police station and asked for a speeding ticket,” another wrote. and if you were a Stereogum reader at the time, you probably remember it. But the bit only worked because it was Beach House’s new album we were talking. Even before its release, Bloom was a Event, an album so long awaited that most people couldn’t wait to hear it. Who but the greatest living man could bear to wait two whole months?
Beach House’s first two albums were beloved in their own way, but the Baltimore duo’s 2010 Sub Pop debut teenage dream was their mainstream breakthrough moment, blasting and honing their hazy dream-pop sound into soulful pop perfection. According to this, Bloom, which turns 10 this weekend, was not so much a departure as a refinement, using all the same building blocks – the spindly webs of arpeggiated guitar of Alex Scally, the nostalgic keyboards and throaty vocals of Victoria Legrand – but rendering them in glorious widescreen -definition that felt like another breakthrough. The teenage dream had grown now, morphing into something bigger, brighter, and bolder than ever.
“The reason it’s called Bloom is because of the incredible forces that are inside this disc. Every song is bigger than on the last record in terms of starting in one place and ending in another,” Legrand told The Line Of Best Fit. “We just wanted the songs to be really big,” added Alex Scally. “We were inspired by the very existence of certain albums like animal sounds on which each track is a great singular statement. It’s the same with Disintegration by the priest and Violator by Depeche Mode. These albums have a singular vision. Maybe on teenage dream a song would be about heartbreak or something and couldn’t seem any bigger than that, for this album we wanted the songs to be about heartbreak but then the year after the heartbreak and the thoughts you have. The songs encompass a much larger slice of life.
This expanded scope immediately became apparent after hitting the album’s first single and opener “Myth”, the latest entry in the band’s already substantial pantheon of greatest openers of all time (see also : “Zebra”, “Wedding Bell”) . It takes time to get going, adding more and more layers over the initial single beat of the cowbell. Scally’s rippling guitar shimmers like quicksilver. Each soaring drum hit has a distinct tactile weight. By the time Legrand’s vocals enter, nearly 45 seconds later, the song already sounds monolithic, expanding and contracting like ocean tides or a colossal living, breathing organism.
Every song on Bloom lasts at least four minutes, and everyone feels as big as “Myth.” We all remember the epic intro of “Myth” and the little synth leading up to the splendor of “Lazuli,” but each of these tracks has at least one moment that will give you chills. There’s the indelible chorus of “Other People,” with Scally’s guitar mirroring Legrand’s bittersweet vocals. There’s the striking keyboard line of “On The Sea”, reminiscent of the handcrafted charm of their earlier work. All of the songs sound instantly familiar – and although Beach House detractors have long argued that all of their songs sound the same, they all feel remarkably distinct.
It can be difficult to write about Beach House because everything about their music, from the sound to the lyrics, seems ineffably mystical, mysterious and incantatory. “You want the words to create feelings, and also those intense visuals,” Legrand said in an interview with Pitchfork. “As someone who writes lyrics, it’s not always about literal heartbreak, but more about the negative space and feelings that surround it. How do you describe a feeling without saying ‘it’ is the feeling”? How can you take something that’s completely natural, which will eventually transfer to the listener, but not just settle for that instant feeling of “you hurt me”, and instead go into an imaginary landscape is the most intense task.
Each Beach House song feels like a Rorschach test, or perhaps a Rothko painting: gestural and abstract, a sculptural object of words and sounds onto which the listener can project their own meaning. Even the title of the album, Bloom, opens up to infinite interpretation. “It’s funny that everyone is obsessed with the idea that it has to do with flowers because we thought it sounded dark,” Scally said. “The word is like an object – we thought ‘bloom’, ‘doom’. It encapsulated tons of it: bloom, end of bloom, then come back the following year.” That says it all, and nothing. Perhaps sense is quite irrelevant, because in the Beach House universe, feeling reigns supreme.
Although he reveled in ambiguity, one thing was certain: Bloom felt, as soon as it arrived, like the perfect Beach House album. That doesn’t mean it was the better Beach House album, of course. Even back then, some may have preferred the more intimate scale of teenage dream. But it is difficult to say that Bloom was the definitive execution of the band’s artistic vision, the apotheosis of the Beach House aesthetic. Every album leading to Bloom was part of a linear progression, and Bloom was its logical outcome.
Where do you go when you have already reached perfection? This is what Beach House understood throughout their post-Bloom career. Since then, each album uses the basic recipe established by Bloom and tweaked it a half or two steps, adding this or that spice to taste. cherry of depression introduces buzzing dissonance into their sonic world, while 7 was darker and bolder without straying too far from the proscribed path. They all felt like cosmic events, but Bloom may forever be the sun around which all the other Beach House albums orbit. Joe Howse, if you’re listening: I hope it was worth the wait.