I have to admit, I was a tad dubious at first when I first put on my LP copy of Bloom by Beach House. Why? Well, it sounded soooo much like Cocteau Twins that I initially had trouble taking it very seriously. The opening track, "Myth," could have easily been on Treasure, the 1984 opus that made me a fan of the Cocteau Twins in the first place.
I put away the album for a few weeks.
When I was ready to revisit the album with fresh ears, I first pulled out some early and later period Cocteau Twins albums; they are still wonderful. But, listening to them closely again, it got me to thinking about the hard fact that The Cocteau Twins are -- in fact -- no longer a group either for live performance or recordings.
Time passes quickly and even though in the back of my mind I considered Cocteau Twins "new" music, the reality is they are OLD music.
"Oldies But Goodies" for the not-so-new-new millennium. Yikes!
I thusly smacked my blind-folded fool head recognizing fully the "why" of Beach House's ascendant popularity. Of course! It makes perfects sense that a a new band from Baltimore expanding upon that lush, haunting sound of the Cocteau Twins would catch on with a new generation of fans. I'm not being sarcastic here.
Lets take a moment to set the wayback machine and look at a bit of music history....
The so called "new wave" music of the late 70s and 80s echoed the British Invasion and Rockabilly music of the late 1950s and 1960s. Why shouldn't it? It was a great sound and it opened up an entirely new audience to this type of music (subsequent echoes of which are still being heard today).
Now, lets enter the "Time Tunnel" ... I have to admit it took me a few moment to "grok" the math that 1997 was nearly 16 years ago.
Then, I had to connect that notion to a look back that 1977 -- when punk and new wave music ascended -- was about 16 years after the early 60s when the Beatles were born and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound singles by The Crystals and The Ronettes were the cutting edge of American popular radio.
"Gabba Gabba, Hey," indeed....
So, yeah, what's new is old and what's old is new and the music world was long overdue for a new flourish of Cocteau Twins inspired music!
"Here we are in the years," once wrote a wise-beyond-his-age Neil Young at the dawn of his career....
The melodies on Beach House's Bloom are really very warm and inviting, so I'll be keeping this album out in the play stack for many more spins. I can't pick out any one song as distinctly Beach House-ian at this stage (I will be checking out their earlier albums). To my semi-jaded ear, they sound kinda like the band picked up where Cocteau Twins left off in 1997 when the band called it a day. Melodically, however, perhaps Beach House chose Treasure as the launch pad for this album. All the trademark Twins sounds are there: reverb-drenched electric surf guitar atmospheres, tasteful pop drumming (or drum machine sequencing, as was the case on the early CT albums) and an ethereal female lead singer with a beautiful voice. Like Treasure, the songs on Bloom are best enjoyed in a single listen together as a complete work... there you get immersed in the sound and the melodies begin to, well, bloom and flower.
I would love to hear Beach Houses' Victoria Legrand duet with Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser.
Fidelity wise, Bloom sounds pretty warm, benefitting from more modern recording techniques. I have no idea if it was made digitally or analog but it sounds fatter and warmer than some of the Cocteau Twins CDs and LPs I played for reference in preparing this piece (Head Over Heels, Milk & Kisses, Four Calendar Cafe, Blue Bell Knoll and, still my favorite, Treasure).
For that reason alone, you might want to pick up the two LP set (which spins at 45 RPM) that sounds great on dead quiet (probably 140-gram) vinyl that is very well centered. The free 320 kbps MP3 download that comes with Bloom sounds quite good all things considered; sure, you lose some of the warmth and depth of the LP pressing of course, but it is convenient to just be able to put on the whole album and let it play without having to get up every 10 minutes to flip the album side.
Oh, one last thing. At the end of side four, there is a "hidden" bonus track. This is a clever idea at first - a hard stop groove keeps the record from playing through, forcing you to get up and move the stylus. After a few visits to this, I'm not entirely sure I like this because you know its coming up. But, whatever, you know? At least we are getting a bonus track on the LP so I guess we should be thankful. Its a pretty song. Unfortunately, the bonus track on the LP is not included in the download. its not even listed on the album. So, it is genuinely exclusive and thus you'll be wanting to play the LP for the most part anyhow.
So, there you have it. I'm diggin' this Beach House album.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.