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Listening to Beach House is a little like praying: Under the right circumstances, any and everyone will turn to them. What listeners take from the experience probably depends on their mental state at the time, but the music is always there. At this point, they loom more as a mystic force in indie rock than as an actual band. Beach House’s dreamy, spiritual sound has been pretty much unchangeable for eight albums, and Once Twice Melody might expand their palette a bit, but it’s no experimental reach or brand new direction. Why mess with perfection? Their gauzy soundscapes are vague enough to sustain quite a bit of emotional projection, but there’s depth of meaning lurking within the songs that few other bands yield.
Victoria Legrand’s strangely neutral, always mesmerizing vocals continue to lead the way, with her longtime creative partner Alex Scally on backup vocals and various production duties (all songs are credited to Beach House, jointly), and in this case, no one else involved. Live drums were added later, but no other collaborators were involved until the mixing and arranging phase. The band also self-produced this album entirely on their own, a shift after years of working with co-producer Chris Coady, who joined them on Teen Dream and also worked on Bloom, two of their most critically-acclaimed releases. The choice to work on the record at home, and in isolation, was mostly due to the pandemic, but if anything, it only seems to enhance the fogginess and softness of the record, which is mammoth compared to past releases: exactly double their more standard offering of nine songs per release.
Because it’s so long, it will be up to each listener to winnow out their favorites, and that’s an experience the band is looking forward to giving to fans. “There’s a real joy in the expanse,” Scally told Pitchfork of the band’s choice to keep all 18 songs. Spread out over months across four smaller EPs, the space between each “chapter” gave longtime fans and newcomers alike the space to really sit with each section. Then again, when was the last time Drake released a proper album that was less than 18 tracks? (The answer is 2013) Maybe Beach House is leaning into the structure of the future; all the rare bits, all the deep cuts, and all the bangers, released as one. In terms of semantics, Once Twice Melody is described as a “double album,” but despite the song’s disparate moods, it still feels apiece.
From the first “chapter,” early on “Superstar” was tagged as the standout, a classic, repetitive Beach House synth line that slowly explodes into all sorts of floating pieces about halfway through, and surges into an extended outro rather than fading. My pick from that EP, though, is “Pink Funeral,” a song that’s more Swan Lake than Teen Dream, completely buoyed by their newfound inclusion of live string arrangements and whining electric guitar alike. Chapter two’s “ESP” is vintage Beach House, a sighing, simmering anthem punctuated by organ and more strings. Similarly, “Sunset” is a standout from chapter three, incorporating acoustic guitar in a way that feels fresh for this band, even if, in some ways, that was a sound they were replacing when the band debuted in the early 2000s.
Part of the ethos of Once Twice Melody does seem to be that zen-like conclusion that everything comes back around. Just before the release of their final chapter, and subsequently, the entire album, the band opted to share “Hurts To Love” as a stand-alone single on Valentine’s Day, a more openly sentimental move than they might have adopted in the past. More midi than some of the other offerings here, this song’s lyrics also seem to be more direct than most of the others, confronting the confluence of pain and pleasure that any deep relationship necessarily invokes. “If it hurts to love / You better do it anyway,” Legrand sings. “If it hurts too much / Well, I loved you anyway.”
The track before it, “The Bells,” is much more romantic though, again leaning into guitar tones that might come as a pleasant surprise to veteran fans. More than starlit skies or cosmic forces, Legrand finds comfort in what ties us to earth, the tolling of the bells, the neighborhood bar: “I can’t live without you, I’ll be the last one at the bar.” More Lorde’s “Big Star” than Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells,” the essence of both seems to run through Beach House’s approximation. Of course, the most blatant love song on this record is about a familiar, ordinary sound that evokes the strongest connection of all. Like a prayer, it might all be nothing. It all depends on who is listening.