Album Review: Beach House, ‘Once Twice Melody’

    Whichever way you look at it, Beach House’s new album feels like their most mature effort to date. Somehow that statement rings true almost every time the Baltimore duo return with a new project, which speaks to the natural evolution of their singular, instantly recognizable sound. Having titled its most beloved albums Bloom and Teen Dream, this is a band that has spent much of its career evoking the nostalgia and idleness of youth while subtly shifting their approach; they understand that growth happens slowly and that the changes that come with it often only intensify the ache of yearning. With that in mind, their decision to extend the rollout of Once Twice Melody – their first studio album since 2018’s 7 – by releasing it gradually and in chapters feels less like a storytelling trick than a means of allowing fans to grow into the material over time, mirroring what’s always been the most enchanting and transformative part of a Beach House album: letting the songs sink in.

    Since the release of their self-titled debut in 2006, vocalist Victoria Legrand and guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally have been finding new ways of deepening and sharpening their craft. Their brand of subdued melancholia normally relies on some combination of lush synths, hypnotic vocals, and impeccable arrangements, but it’s how they go about setting the stage that makes a difference – adjusting the tone, size, or texture of their music, and of course, playing with light and shadow. They set out to capture a kind of hazy, ephemeral beauty and are swept up in fantasies of escape; but rather than getting lost in the ether, they always infuse their gauzy soundscapes with an element of physicality. For the first time on Once Twice Melody, though, they mess with time and scale: Instead of letting the magic of a spell linger in the mind of the listener, it seems to ask, what if we made the dream last longer?

    And they do. Clocking in at 84 minutes, Once Twice Melody is a sprawling, phenomenal album that neither overwhelms nor overstays its welcome. What’s most impressive is not how epic or ambitious it is, but how restrained, meditative, and even unfocused it can be without sacrificing any of its emotional weight. Beach House’s music has always had the hushed, mystical intimacy of two people in a room together, and as the first album produced entirely by themselves, this 18-track collection is no different. At the same time, they take the grand theatricality of their performances to a new level, enlisting a live string ensemble to accentuate the sense of melodrama permeating many of the songs. The ominous arrangement on ‘Pink Funeral’ helps bring out the threat of horror that’s implied in the lyrics (“Once was a fairy tale/ Then it all went to hell”), while ‘New Romance’ conjures a sound that’s rich and radiant enough to match its captivating chorus. The album doesn’t shy away from spectacle, reaching transcendent heights on early standout ‘Superstar’ and even leaning into the glamour of ‘80s synth-pop on ‘Masquerade’.

    These moments are powerful but never overblown; even if Legrand’s lyrics frame everything in intergalactic terms, the album’s steady pacing and layered presentation ensures that the actual emotions feel human in their intensity. And though her imagery can be both vivid and oblique, its resonance is rarely lost when paired with the music: More than a recurring symbol, the stars feel like characters that help us trace the protagonist’s journey, while references to dressing up make the process of self-discovery approachable at the scale of the body. These are songs of love and heartbreak, no doubt, but listening to Once Twice Melody can feel like watching the duo pouring out and magnifying them in real-time. Beach House songs nearly always revolve around indefinable emotions, and this is not the first time they sound fuller and more soaring than before. But though the project might be more digestible in small doses, as a whole it turns the act of desperately holding on to something into a freshly revelatory experience: songs with titles like ‘Illusion of Forever’ and ‘Another Go Round’ come after the longest track on the album, the 7-minute ‘Over and Over’, and a song called ‘Finale’ is the one that opens its final act.

    All of which is to say, this is a record that dares you to fade along with it. Beach House aren’t necessarily interested in making it engaging so much as enveloping; while a band like Big Thief might treat a similarly ambitious effort by switching up the dynamic and offering surprises along the way, Beach House create the illusion of comfort and familiarity while constantly and ambiguously grasping at something vast and profound yet implacable. This isn’t to say they don’t experiment with new ideas, but each decision to deviate from the formula feels apt. The stunning acoustic highlight ‘Sunset’ allows space for some of Legrand’s most potent lyricism, while the robotic vocals on ‘Runaway’ hint at the singer’s dissolving sense of self and direction.

    It’s hard to tell if Once Twice Melody really ever reaches a point of finality – it doesn’t have to – but it’s remarkable the lengths that Beach House are willing to go to get closer to that place they can’t quite name, still, how far they’ll stretch the limits of their universe. “The end is the beginning, the beginning to an end,” Legrand proclaims on the closing track, ‘Modern Love Stories’. But what happens there, between the warm embrace of the summer sun and the cosmic darkness that ultimately consumes us? If the daydream amounts to nothing, Beach House are determined to make the rush as pure and sweet as possible; they once described their creative pursuits as “making mountains out of nothingness.” It’s best you hear the full thing, but they offer a glimpse of what that looks like on ‘Over and Over’: “Out of nothing comes/ The moonglow/ And all that is left/ Around you/ When all the lights go down,” Legrand sings, synths swelling to fill out the void. “One by one, they open/ Forever and ever/ All the little angels descend.”

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