Sporting moments that rank alongside their best work, the Baltimore duo’s eighth album adds a compelling new organic ingredient to their sound
Ever since the breakout success of 2010’s modern classic Teen Dream, Baltimore dream pop maestros Beach House have released a steady stream of accomplished, highly atmospheric albums without ever really quite scaling the lofty peaks of their most universally praised record. The duo’s most recent outing, 2018’s 7, was probably their most muscular, confident effort yet, but still left the listener with a slight sense of a band stylistically treading water, albeit often beautifully so.
Once Twice Melody, Beach House’s eighth album, doesn’t completely dispel that view, but its best tracks come close to matching the near-perfection of Teen Dream, while also introducing some welcome new ideas. Produced entirely by the band, Once Twice Melody features a live string ensemble for the first time, and its 18 tracks have been released in four separate ‘chapters’ over the past few months, with lyric animations for each song, culminating in the full package’s release.
Although they began work on Once Twice Melody before the pandemic, the time and isolation afforded by lockdowns seems to have inspired Beach House to hone their craft to an even higher level than before. They’ve never sounded so lush and cinematic, with each sonic element of their music deliciously crisp and clear.
The first chapter of songs, a quartet first released in November last year, is arguably the strongest. In particular, the opening title track, with its propulsive synthesisers and Victoria Legrand’s icily seductive vocals, recalls Goldfrapp’s majestic Felt Mountain album, while Pink Funeral’s shimmering strings showcase why this new, organic ingredient is such a compelling addition to Beach House’s already potent recipe.
Runaway, the lead track of the second chapter, is starker and less layered than what we’ve heard so far, opening with clattering percussion before subtly shifting the template to recapture some of the minimalist fragility of the band’s earlier albums. Perhaps the pick of this section of the record is ESP, with its stately melody and restrained strings an example of Beach House at their most blissfully elegant.
Sunset, which kicks off the third chapter, springs a surprise with its gently strummed acoustic guitar, which unfortunately sounds rather limp compared to the majesty of Beach House’s usual wall of sound, a situation not helped by one of Once Twice Melody’s least beguiling melodies. But thankfully the band are soon right back on form with the mesmerisingly hypnotic, organ-heavy Another Go Round, and the menacing electro-pop of Masquerade.
However, the final chapter’s five songs, which herald the full album release, feel a little disappointing and Beach House by numbers, steadily consistent yes, but with no real standout moments to end the record with a flourish. Final track Modern Love Stories plays out with acoustic guitar and strings in tandem, emphasising the new textures that Once Twice Melody has introduced, perhaps not with universal success, but nevertheless there are moments here that rank alongside Beach House’s finest work.