In March 2012, nearly two full months before its scheduled release date and mere days after being announced, Beach House’s Bloom leaked onto the internet. “Every one of our albums has [been leaked],” singer Victoria Legrand told The Guardian in an interview later that year. “It’s a bit of a rampage. There’s that mentality of wanting to be first. I hate to use the word greedy, because I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s grabby. It’s like, ‘Gimme all the presents now! I want the presents now, Mommy!’ Part of it is a strange form of flattery, but I can’t help but feel a little slighted. I want people to get excited — to get the vinyl, to hold it in their hands, read the lyrics. Those are the things I did when I was 14 that you can’t seem to do any more. That’s why live shows are so important. You can’t leak a show.”
I was a college freshman at the time, unhealthily obsessed with Teen Dream and running an extremely amateur album leak blog that no one actually read. (It may or may not have been named after a Flaming Lips lyric.) Of course I downloaded and listened to the leak ravenously before reuploading it to Mediafire. Legrand would’ve been disappointed in me, I’m sure. But an unlikely hero emerged from the depths of the Stereogum comments section: a man named Joe Howse who dared to do the right thing, a bulwark of patience tall against the forces of MP3-era avarice. If you look back at the site’s Premature Evaluation review of the Bloom leak, you’ll see Joe Howse’s comment at the bottom: “Not gonna listen to the leak. Will be better to wait until I can go to my local record store on May 15th.”
Joe Howse, greatest man alive, instantly became a minor Stereogum meme. “one time i had pizza with joe howse. he pretended to be full so i could have the last slice,” one commenter joked. “One time Joe Howse realized he was driving 70 on a 65 mph highway, and he immediately slowed down, drove to the nearest police station and asked for a speeding ticket,” another wrote. It was a whole thing, and if you were a Stereogum reader at the time, you probably remember it. But the bit sort of only worked because this was the new Beach House album we were talking about. Even before it came out, Bloom was an event, an album so highly anticipated that most people just couldn’t wait to hear it. Who but the greatest man alive could bear to wait two whole months?
The first two Beach House albums were beloved in their way, but the Baltimore duo’s 2010 Sub Pop debut Teen Dream was their mainstream breakthrough moment, blowing up and sharpening their hazy dream-pop sound into melancholic pop perfection. Following that, Bloom, which turns 10 years old this weekend, wasn’t a departure so much as a refinement, using all the same building blocks — Alex Scally’s spindly webs of arpeggiated guitar, Victoria Legrand’s nostalgic keyboards and husky voice — but rendering them in glorious widescreen high -definition that felt like another breakthrough. The teen dream was all grown up now, maturing into something bigger and brighter and bolder than ever before.
“The reason why it is called Bloom is because of the incredible forces that are inside this record. Each song is bigger than on the last record in terms of starting off in one place and ending up in another,” Legrand told The Line Of Best Fit. “We just wanted the songs to be really big,” Alex Scally added. “We were inspired by the very existence of certain albums like Pet Sounds on which every track is a big singular statement. It’s the same with Disintegration by the Cure and Violator by Depeche Mode. These albums have a singular vision. Maybe on Teen Dream A song would be about heartbreak or something and couldn’t feel any bigger than that, for this album we wanted songs to be about heartbreak but then the year after heartbreak and the thoughts you have. The songs encompass a much bigger slice of life.”
This expanded scope was immediately apparent upon pressing play on the album’s lead single and opening track “Myth,” the latest entry into the band’s already substantial pantheon of all-time best album openers (see also: “Zebra,” “Wedding Bell”) . It takes its time to get going, adding more and more layers over the initial simple cowbell beat. Scally’s rippling guitar shimmers like quicksilver. Every booming drum hit has a distinct tactile heft to it. By the time Legrand’s voice enters, nearly 45 seconds in, the song already feels monolithic, expanding and contracting like the tides of the ocean or a colossal living, breathing organism.
Every song on Bloom is at least four minutes long, and every one feels just as big as “Myth.” We all remember the epic introduction of “Myth” and the dinky synth leading into the splendor of “Lazuli,” but every single one of these tracks has at least one moment that’ll give you chills. There’s the indelible chorus of “Other People,” with Scally’s guitar mirroring Legrand’s bittersweet vocals. There’s the striking keyboard line of “On The Sea,” recalling the homespun charm of their earlier work. All of the songs feel instantly familiar — and while Beach House’s detractors have long maintained that all of their songs sound the same, they all feel remarkably distinct.
It can be hard to write about Beach House because everything about their music, from the sound to the lyrics, feels ineffably mystical, mysterious and incantatory. “You want the words to create feelings, and also these intense visuals,” Legrand said in an interview with Pitchfork. “As a person who writes lyrics, it’s not always about a literal heartbreak, but rather the negative space and the feelings around it. How do you describe a feeling without saying ‘this is the feeling’? How do you take something completely natural, that will eventually transfer to the listener, but not just settle for that instant feeling of ‘you hurt me,’ and go to an imaginary landscape instead? It’s the most intense task.”
Every Beach House song feels like a Rorschach test, or maybe a Rothko painting: gestural and abstract, a sculptural object of word and sound onto which the listener can project his or her own meaning. Even the album title, Bloom, opens itself up to infinite interpretation. “It’s funny that everyone’s obsessed with the idea that it has to do with flowers because we thought it sounded dark,” Scally said. “The word is like an object — we were thinking ‘bloom,’ ‘doom.’ It encapsulated tons: the bloom, the end of the bloom, and then coming back the next year.” It means everything, and nothing. Maybe meaning is beside the point entirely, because in Beach House’s universe, feeling reigns supreme.
Although it reveled in ambiguity, one thing was certain: Bloom felt, immediately upon arrival, like the perfect Beach House album. That’s not to say that it was the best Beach House album, necessarily. Even at the time, some may have preferred the slightly more intimate scale of Teen Dream. But it’s hard to argue that Bloom was the definitive execution of the band’s artistic vision, the apotheosis of Beach House’s aesthetic. Every album leading up to Bloom was part of a linear progression, and Bloom was its logical endpoint.
Where do you go when you’ve already achieved perfection? That’s what Beach House have been figuring out throughout the entirety of their post-Bloom career. Every album since has taken the basic recipe established by Bloom and tweaked it a half-step or two, adding this spice or that to taste. Depression Cherry introduced droning dissonance into their sound-world, while 7 was darker and bolder without straying too far from the proscribed path. They’ve all felt like cosmic events, but Bloom will perhaps forever be the sun around which every other Beach House album orbits. Joe Howse, if you’re listening: I hope it was worth the wait.