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The sound of Beach House’s ‘Once Twice Melody’

| Thursday, February 24, 2022

Claire Kirner | The Observer
Image source: The Telegraph

Considering the fact that my music taste is dominated by white rock music, it always surprises me when I remember that I got into Beach House via Kendrick Lamar. On the song “Money Trees” from his 2012 album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” Kendrick sampled Beach House’s “Silver Soul” from their 2010 breakthrough album “Teen Dream.” When I was first getting turned on to Kendrick, “Money Trees” was the track that stood out the most to me, as it is ominous and haunting. It was when I first got into Beach House and listened to “Silver Soul” that I first truly grasped what people mean when they describe something as “hauntingly beautiful.”

Everything Beach House produces is beautiful, and everything they produce is instantly recognizable as their work. As is the case with many musical artists (Fleet Foxes, Animal Collective and Drake come to mind), Beach House music as heard by fans and as heard by Spotify passers-by is very different. In the musical imagination of contemporary indie rock listeners (at least those who treat Pitchfork like gospel), the “Beach House sound” — following in the footsteps of earlier dream pop groups like Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star — is the aural signifier of deep emotional intimacy. You can hear it in the music even before attending to the lyrics. Their music fully actualizes all the imagery that is summoned by the phrase “dream pop.”  

On the surface, it might seem like all Beach House songs sound the same, but the dedicated listeners can quickly discern between the variations of their sound from throughout their career transitions. For example, I tend to think of 2010’s “Teen Dream” and 2012’s “Bloom,” my two favorite of their albums, as the yin and yang of Beach House’s stadium era. “Teen Dream” is the comparatively sunnier and more passionate record while “Bloom” is more nocturnal and meditative. When Beach House dropped two albums within the span of a few months in 2015 (“Depression Cherry” and “Thank Your Lucky Stars”), they left many wondering why they weren’t released together as a double album, but fans understood and could immediately detect a significant gap between the styles and moods of the two.

Seven years later, Beach House have finally released an actual double album. “Once Twice Melody” adheres to principles similar to that of the Beatle’s self-titled record, also known as the ”White Album.” Rather than weaving a grand narrative that demands a run time of over an hour, like The Who’s “Tommy” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Beach House uses the double album format to deliver their most diverse set of songs yet. 

I definitely regret not playing along with Beach House’s interesting approach to releasing “Once Twice Melody,” which was to release it one “side” at a time each month starting in November. Beach House fans will definitely notice that “Once Twice Melody” has more acoustic guitar than probably all of their previous albums combined — a scarcity hitherto ironic given that the acoustic guitar, in popular imagination, often indexes intimacy much more strongly than its electric counterpart. “Once Twice Melody” is a lot to wrap your head around, even for a double album, but I’ve listened through it four times so far, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with it. While it may not be the most innovative or my personal favorite of their releases, I definitely think it is brilliant. 

Artist: Beach House

Album: “Once Twice Melody”

Label: Sub Pop

Favorite tracks: “Runaway,” “Sunset,” “Hurts to Love” 

If you like: Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Lorde

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

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