The Baltimore trio’s 8th record serves as a perfect amalgamation of the band’s previous works as well as a venturing into new sonic territory.
Over the years, I had never really grown accustomed to Beach House and their signature dream pop sound. Though I find titles such as 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012′ Bloom still relatively pleasant listens, their tracks never truly latched themselves into my attention beyond a state of ephemerality. When Chapter 1 of Once Twice Melody dropped back in November of last year, an intuition, spawned from the sheer novelty of new music being released, got the better of me. I gave the 4 new tracks a listen. For some reason, something felt different about these compared to their previous works. Though some could argue that they represented a watering down of the band’s sound, I, in fact, grew conclusive of the opposite. For me, I never thought their sound on past records went hard enough in terms of their dream pop aesthetic – with songs lacking a particular density much more prominent in the works of genre pioneers Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. Admittedly, though this may have been spawned through my reminiscence towards Dream pop’s heyday, I still felt the bad had yet to fill a sonic void which has been itching my mind ever since their music was introduced unto me.
Nevertheless, I quickly fell in love with the record’s first quarter: Once Twice Melody, Superstar, Pink Funeral and Through Me. The title felt much like I was riding a carousel with its progressive beat and swirling arpeggios cycling through me mind – only elevated by Victoria’s beckoning yet almost ominously robotic vocal harmonies on the hook. The synth line propels the song into an almost extra-terrestrial sphere of phonics much akin to Space Song’s only with a more sinister guise. This cosmic nature returns in a much more gentrified form on the following track, Superstar. The instrumentation, though much more simplistic, radiates a tender beauty as the accompanying lyrics detail a parallel between that of a dying relationship and a shooting star. The way the song builds is sublime and by the time the post-chorus arrives, the song’s flourishment reaches full apex with a subsequent explosion of vocal bites and synths littering the mix. The pay off is immeasurable and results in Superstar clearly being one of the album’s instant highlights. Pink Funeral is one of the album’s spookier moments with a sound which can be best described as the theme of Psycho dosed in a paint of dreamy euphoria. Its lyrically content conjures a twisted lullaby which conveys the mental imagery of someone burning down a room full of victorian dolls and other playthings. A demonic envisioning yet one unusually therapeutic and melancholic. Through Me closes the record’s first quarter. The song, though the most sonically and structurally linear of the pack is still scattered with blissful moments. The most notable of which is the beat which oddly mirrors that found in elevator music – if it was an elevator going to heaven of course (no stairs today Led Zeppelin).
Chapter 2 opens with Runaway which, though still an okay listen, is probably my least favourite track on the entire record. After countless repeats I have still failed to truly ‘get it’ with my gripes usually revolving around the obnoxious and arcady beat, ugly vocoder and a vocal melody which bathes too much in its own simplicity to ever really attract my liking. ESP quickly steers the record back on track with it serving as the albums first real ballad. The dampened mix of the beat and guitar lines presents a beautifully aquatic sound. As the track goes on, we only sink deeper into the abyss with us washed ashore only by the time the brief yet poignant string outro arrives. New Romance is a more lyrically optimistic outing on the record. Though it took some time for me to grow accustomed to the track’s meandering passages and radically vibrant sound, one day, it just all suddenly clicked and fell into place for me. What is already a near perfect track only ascends to a new level of mastery as the bridge is introduced. Over and Over marks an end point for the record’s first half. Though initially safe in its sound, the song is driven by lush chord changes and bubbling outro which, though maybe a little too elongated, just builds and builds over and over like the track’s namesake.
Chapter 3 is the more sonically diverse quadrant of the album with its 5 tracks all drastically differing from one another. The opener, Sunset, serves a pretty folk piece whose nature-themed lines makes me miss walks through the park in summer time. It perfectly meditates on the small details of the world and draws out their beautiful in a way which seems tribute to the world itself. Only You Know is easily the heaviest song on the record with a shoe gaze flare much alike the works of My Bloody Valentine. The chorus is scorched in effects and blaring guitars which make me feel like I am touching the sun with my bare hands. The composition of the track is also incredible and leads to my favourite moment of the entire record: when the verse melody overlapses that of the chorus’s on the outro. It has one of the most satisfying 30 seconds I have encountered in all of music. Another Go Around was a track I had been aware of some time before Chapter 3 had dropped due to an early leak. The song is led by a hypnotic Elliot Smith-like melody and serves as a touching cool-down moment after the sonic rush of the previous track. Masquerade demonstrates the band delving into a more synth wave sound which would not appear out of place on the soundtrack of a film like Drive or Titane. The echoing chimes harken back to the record’s earlier gothic nature and though the chorus never really does it for me, the refrain of ‘light each candle’ perfectly builds and subsequently bursts in a gratifyingly slick way. Illusion Of Forever closes the chapter as the most reverb-soaked track on the album. Its question-and-answer vocal delivery has an almost angelic or religious quality which is only amplified by the sheer heavenliness of the instrumental. It’s what I imagine one hears as they ascend to the plane of the afterlife.
Chapter 4, though strong, definitely contains some of the weakness part of of the track list. It opens strong, however, with Finale which is carried by an infectious synth hook very much alike something lifted from The Cure’s Disintegration. The lyrics also represent themes of ‘ending’ with the chorus even boldly stating ‘yeah it’s over’. The Bells is also a beautiful track which made almost me tear up upon initial hearing. It felt like an almost ‘goodbye’ track for the record as no more would we be waiting for the band’s anticipated chapter drops each month. It’s slide guitar is also very beautiful and seems referential of George Harrisons work on All Things Must Pass. The final 3 tracks for me demonstrate however the band failing to really stick what should have been a monumental landing. Hurts to Love is a nice listen and probably the most ‘pop’ song on the album. It’s instrumental however feels too stripped and almost beneath the band at this point. Its sonic quality sticks out like a sore thumb when considered how rich much of the album’s instrumentation is. Many nights is another ballad but one which feels rather too tedious in its delivery. Much of its vocal passages suspend in a place of misdirection and its hard to find a real progression to Victoria’s transitions from verse to hook and vice versa. That being said, the soft bang of the outro’s build up does offer a relative excitement but this may only be accredited to the uneventfulness of the rest of the track. Modern Love Stories closes the record. For me, what carries the track is Victoria’s cryptic lyricism which details just a vast array of abstract imagery which evokes just a college of mental imagery as one listens. What is sacrificed however is the song’s structure with it feeling like a much needed chorus has been omitted for no good reason. The guitar-led outro is nice to listen to but too resemblant of Weyes Blood’s Wild Time almost to the point of distraction. The gothic instrumentation is decent but almost feels fatigued at this point in the record after Pink Funeral and Masquerade (which are much more superior in my opinion). Personally, this song could have easily been taken off the album with a track like Over and Over serving as a more complete and gratifying potential closer.
As an 18 track Goliath, it can feel rather tiring sometimes to listen to the album in full as usually, by the time Runaway arrives, I am stricken with a hesitancy to continue. This is not to discredit any track of their merit however as I much adore most the songs on the record. With a slight reordering I feel like this issue could have been resolved. Despite this gripe, Once Twice Melody is still my favourite Beach House record thus far and has sparked an eager anticipation for what to expect from the band in the future. The band’s diversity is on full force and though it has a few low points, these are very much made up for by the rest of the stellar track-list.
Strongest Songs: Superstar, Pink Funeral, Through Me, ESP, New Romance, Only You Know, Another Go Around, Illusion Of Forever, Finale
Weakest Songs: Runaway, Hurts To Love, Many Nights, Modern Love Stories