Could I fangirl for Beach House? Yeah. Maybe. Ok. Perhaps I’m being a bit stubborn about how much I love this duo’s sound.
The thing I love most about the Dream Pop genre is the sheer expanse of sound. This may seem like a quick detour, but several weekends ago (read: the Saturday before Record Store Day), I scored a sweet deal. Or it seemed pretty sweet to me at least, because it was Gil Scott-Heron’s last album which was on sale in the vinyl section. What I found on “I’m New Here,” besides the gorgeous print photos and other inserts, were words of wisdom printed on its sleeves. It’s not like what he had to say wasn’t lurking around in my brain before, but that he took the time to clearly articulate the value of music for the listener resonated with me even now as I sit here trying to pin down how I feel about Beach House’s latest effort “Bloom.”
Even so, I listened to “Bloom” on a laptop with my earbuds in, although my eyes were closed. So there is that. Surely Gil Scott-Heron understands the value of compromise. I mean, I guess I could have plugged the laptop into a sound system and really just laid back, but truth be told, the only time I’m not busy is when everyone else is asleep. Maybe there’s a reason I like Dream Pop, since technically I should be sleeping when I’m often listening to it. And there are a lot of gentle tracks on “Bloom.” “Irene”, the last song on the album, is by far the most indulgent clocking in at almost 17 minutes. A solid chunk of that time is devoted to pure silence before the beats and synths start filtering back in, like sunlight on a dark horizon.
Myth, the first track, is easily an amalgamation of song stylings heard on “Teen Dream,” but it has outstanding characteristics too. There are lush percussive elements that range from steady beats to an ethereal twinkling of sound layered throughout the song. As with anything that invokes beach-related imagery, there are plenty of aural flourishes to really shoot this song from the swells of the ocean right into the sun-drenched clouds that only seem to gather over the most striking of shorelines. And if there’s anything Beach House truly excels at, it’s creating that kind of atmosphere. That said, “Myth” is fairly indicative of what the majority of “Bloom” sounds like, which isn’t bad, but if you were hoping for leaps in experimentation that’s not going to be a huge factor on this album. But considering this is Beach House’s fourth effort, the evolution of sound has yet to ebb back to the days of their self-titled debut.
There were things missing that I heard on “Teen Dream,” their third effort, that I kind of wish had been on “Bloom,” for instance in “Silver Soul,” which is on “Teen Dream,” there were these weird little coo-coo clock chirps layered over an electronic bubbling before intense aural synths began and carried the rest of the song to its almost elegiac conclusion. Where Beach House detours on “Bloom” is that they have substituted this kind of chirpy and bubbly “preface” with sea side recordings that typically mark the end of a track as it blends into the next. Not that they needed chirps and bubbles, rather, it would have just been interesting to hear what other kinds of experimental instrumentation they might employ. To that end, the use of these sea side vista recordings are nice touch. In a way, it kind of grounds the listener before the next swell of music is introduced.
I have few other songs that I easily cherry-picked in the first listen. Although, full disclosure, I’m not feeling particularly melancholy so there might be tracks that are lost on me right now. Make no mistake, this is the sort of simultaneously reflective and introspective iteration of Dream Pop that can be nothing else but lofty and bittersweet. For example,”Hours” has this hook that revs like you’re in a car whipping in and out of curves as you drive up the side of a mountain to “look out over all the hours.” Lyrically this album seems more weighty in theme than some of the others, because in this one track there’s this pervasive sense of fear expressed by the narrator as she worries about being left behind because time spent over-thinking what should be simple decisions. Of all the tracks, Victoria Legrande sounds the most melodic on “Wishes” and there’s a beautiful undercurrent of dissonance that begins midway through the track that ebbs and flows. Percussively it’s pace is akin to feeling your heart beat in swells, which matches perfectly with lyrics that repeatedly ask, “wishes on a wheel, how’s it supposed to feel?” That said, there were a few tracks that I didn’t think were that strong. “Lazuli” has the most off-key vocals as paired with plinky synths and is washed in a haze of an Enya-like chorus. But that’s really the only track on the entire album that I’m not wild about.
For Oklahomans, Beach House will be playing Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa July 9th. “Bloom” will be available for purchase at your local records stores by May 15th.
Seriously, look how excited the Bricktown Guestroom Records is about this new release!
Other interesting musical curios?
J Dilla’s estate, more accurately his mother Maureen Yancey, received a cache of previously unreleased material from record store owner Jeff Bubeck who is based in Detroit. Bubeck found hundreds of tapes and other materials stashed away, and rather than sell it off he kindly returned them. If you’ve never heard of J Dilla, he’s worth checking out. There’s a reason so many are fans of this producer’s progressive beats.
“It was overwhelming to see this handwriting again and to see how he marked his records, with his silver marker,” Ms. Yancey told AllHipHop.com. “That was his favorite color, the silver marker.”
J Dilla, a.k.a. J Dee, passed away in 2006 from complications related to lupus. One can only hope more of his unreleased material will surface. I sincerely enjoyed “Jay Stay Paid,” which is more of an instrumental hiphop album that was released posthumously in 2009.
On the other end of the spectrum, I noticed recently an Oklahoma native attracting a lot of attention. I’ve been listening to John Fullbright for the last couple years and it’s good to see him getting more national attention via NPR and on Yahoo! Music. Fullbright hails from the outskirts of Okemah, OK. I’ve caught a few of his performances, the man has the both the ability to write and sing music with a certain kind of timelessness that most seasoned musicians could very easily be jealous of. His song writing is a blend of Jimmy Webb and Woodie Guthrie. The latter hailing from the same locale. It is worth noting that Fullbright plays to full houses during Okemah’s annual Woodie Guthrie Folk Festival. I’ve actually been out there for that; you get a seat early or you’re not getting a seat at all when Fullbright is playing.
His new album, “From the Ground Up,” is available for purchase. Check it out.
A sample of the talented Mr. Fullbright: