Album: Beach House, "Bloom" (Sub Pop)
Beach House, which has essentially been making the same record for the last eight years, ever since emerging from its heavily fortified bedroom bunker in Baltimore, has made the best version ever of its same old album. It doesn't take much time around these guys to suss out that this slow, relentless crawl toward perfection is all part of the bigger plan, a sort of magic act that the duo has been polishing for years and which now works so well that even close-up inspection cannot reveal the sleight-of-hand.
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally don't evolve so much as they buff out everything that doesn't quite fit: the lush, reverberating other-worldliness of 2008's "Gila" is still everywhere you look on "Bloom," but the shy, staggered-step uncertainty that marked earlier works like "Devotion" has been replaced almost entirely by a sort of seamlessly self-assured popcraft.
In "Bloom," the now-veteran band has created a nearly perfect soundtrack for a warm summer day. It's hard to imagine dancing to songs like "Myth," which starts off with a cowbell and ends with the same sort of trilling, ascendant guitar riff used to such great effect on "Walk in the Park," the duo's previous high-water mark.
"Like no other, you can't be replaced," Legrand sings over and over on "Lazuli," only the album's third track but weighted like a centerpiece; piercing like a lovestruck foghorn, Legrand's vocal pipes remain a laser beam cutting through the thick, dreamy fog of the band's textural enchantments. The songs swirl about in such a rich, frothy cup that falling into the dreamstate feels almost perilous: the edges of the path should require "stay on trail" markers but for the piercing beacon cast by the singer's gaze. Better yet, it feels calculated, like these smarties actually sat down and worked out exactly how much haze they could blow around the room with the fog machine before they dropped Legrand's anchoring voice to get the liferaft back to the misty shore.
It's all very lush and nearly perfect pop, just on its own terms of "music that sounds great going into and out of your ears," similar in means and scope to what Lindsey Buckingham was turning Fleetwood Mac into three-and-a-half decades ago, but without the weird tints of relationship hell. Legrand and Scally are refreshingly straightforward for a pair of dream-pop merchants, especially when you realize that Legrand's confessions are not abstractions or projections but merely notes jotted down on a pad of paper made flesh: "Other people want to keep in touch," bemoans one memorable lyric. "Something happens and it's not enough." It's like reading someone's diary as they talk about something vaguely disappointing or unfulfilling. Or in this age, someone's protected tweets.
There's not much actual variety to be found on "Bloom" -- the tempo seems locked into default setting throughout and the colors of the crayons used to color in the sounds seems limited to the smallest set of basic pastels -- but everything that is used, every tool that has been gathered and brought to the table, is used brilliantly. Unlocking the craft of each song, in fact, feels like learning the intricacies of a very cleverly designed puzzle. New layers peel off and are exposed, before that layer sheds itself to show the layer beneath it. How can they do so much with so little?
It's a mystery worth savoring and exploring, and on "Bloom," the duo makes it clear that they have no intention of giving away their secrets anytime soon. No good magician does, after all.