I was scared when approaching this review of what I refer to as the 'first album imprint syndrome' where the first release you encounter by a band leaves such a strong impression that it makes assessing their future output in an impartial way highly difficult. This phenomenon is further reinforced if the band's other material sticks to a similar melodic or compositional framework. After listening to 'Bloom' a couple of times I realised that yes, the syndrome was in full effect - this release sounds a great deal like its predecessor. Gulp...difficult review...
It took me a long time to fully warm to 'Teen Dream' so I purposefully didn't attempt to write this for a solid week and a good twelve or so listens, hoping that not only would the album grow on me, but also that it would forge a unique identity all of its own. I'm happy to report that I've slowly warmed to 'Bloom', some of the songs included here are truly exceptional, and yes, importantly this release has just enough new ideas to escape being labelled a mere retread...and yet...and yet...I can't quite shake the feeling this falls just a little short in the final reckoning.
Firstly it is important to emphasise that in one major way this album is superior to 'Teen Dream' - the production and sound layering is noticeably improved. Richer, fuller, more varied instrumentation - the sound quality is top banana. The downside is that unfortunately the writing is less consistently distinctive, the vocal melodies less memorable, some of the instrumentation a little overly familiar.
Things start off strongly, 'Myth' is everything you could possibly want from a Beach House song - the final verse starting with the resigned lament 'You can't keep hangin' on to all that's dead and gone' and finishing with the emotional outpouring 'let the ashes fly!' is transcendent stuff. A beautiful opening and the quality is kept high with 'Wild', tasty layering with the underlying keyboard lines and some of Legrand's best vocal melodies on the album, right up there with her most impressive moments on 'Teen Dream'.
Third out of the traps is 'Lazuli' - a fantastic intro but overall the composition plays out like a slighter, less focused retread of 'Norway' and sees the songwriting dip a shade. Similarly 'Troublemaker' and 'Other People' have their limitations, both built on plodding tempos, neither flows as satisfyingly as you'd expect and both boast choruses with a tacked on quality I can't shake off even after repeated listens. 'New Year' also has a mildly suspect chorus, a fraction too twee, though I love the verses and that drone sound that flows throughout. Despite these minor weaknesses none of these tracks actively hinder the flow of the album and all have their impressive attributes too.
The remaining material redresses the balance, reverting back to the quality of that opening pairing - 'The Hours' is pure catchy goodness and sports a reassuringly singalong chorus, the slow building 'Wishes' then opens a three song closing stretch of impressive form that takes us through the outstanding piano led ballad 'On the Sea' that might just trump 'Teen Dream's similar 'Real Love', and bows out in style with the soaring guitars and mantra vocals of 'Irene'. A strange decision to leave a patch of silence leading to a hidden track after this incredible finale but hey ho, no major drama cobber.
So in summary for me 'Bloom' isn't quite as beguiling as its predecessor though whether or not I was entirely successful in setting aside that pesky 'first album imprint syndrome' I couldn't honestly tell you. You be the judge of that - it matters not, either way the album is well worth investigating.