Beach House

‘Once Twice Melody’
March 2, 2022

The mysterious Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House (Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) have returned with their most ambitious, and extravagant, project yet in Once Twice Melody – a double-album perfectly timed for the fading romance of a late Antipodean summer. It’s a collection of sad but uplifting songs exuding future nostalgia. But is it up there with those beloved Beach House LPs Teen Dream and Bloom? Or is the 18-track Once Twice Melody one excellent album with a lot of surplus?

In fact, Once Twice Melody is Beach House’s greatest achievement, even if it feels overabundant. The combo embrace what they do best: grand and at once melancholy and euphoric pop – Legrand’s voice as intoxicating as ever. But Beach House also meander stylistically, transcending their own oeuvre.

Infamously remote from the media, Beach House is the very incarnation of a cult band, consolidating their Australian fanbase with successive tours – the most recent, in 2019, bringing them to Golden Plains. Both multi-instrumentalists, Legrand and Scally connected in Baltimore’s indie-rock underground, conceiving Beach House in 2004 – with Legrand a beguiling frontwoman. Two years later, Beach House released an eponymous debut, their distinctive style – with languid guitar, ambient synths and reverb aplenty – harking back to California’s Paisley Underground subculture and the shoegaze Mazzy Star. After Devotion, the pair signed to Sub Pop in the US. And, having recruited producer Chris Coady, Beach House broke through to a wider audience with album three, Teen Dream, in 2010. They entered the US Top 10 with 2012’s Bloom. Beach House’s influence reached beyond hipster indie circles, with The Weeknd sampling them on his House Of Balloons mixtape.

Beach House’s eighth album, Once Twice Melody isn’t their first apparent music ‘dump’. In 2015 they promptly followed Depression Cherry with Thank Your Lucky Stars, emphasising that the latter was “not a companion to Depression Cherry or a surprise or B-sides,” but a proper LP. Nevertheless, Depression Cherry attracted all the attention – and is now home to Beach House’s top track on Spotify, ‘Space Song’. Thank Your Lucky Stars was neglected.

Beach House obviously learnt from that experience. As such, they’ve issued Once Twice Melody incrementally by way of four “chapters” – the premiere set of four songs, materialising in November, surely their most immaculate work. Significantly, that suite had as its intro the album’s title-track – melodic, hazy and with an electronic pulse, all project hallmarks. But even ‘Once Twice Melody’ was eclipsed by the six-minute epic ‘Superstar’, an instant Beach House classic that pays homage to ’80s Californian rock with Scally’s rhythmic guitar. Legrand’s lyrics are poetically obscure as she intones, “Don’t want to know how the story ends from now to then.”

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Alas, Beach House don’t do exposition. Indeed, though Once Twice Melody represents some kind of meta-chronicle – a Hollywood tale thematising tragic temporality – its creators haven’t shared any illuminative statements about the concept or narrative arc. The album’s minimal press material refers only to the musicians’ exploring different dynamics in terms of song structures and arrangements. (Curiously, in the credits, tour drummer James Barone is listed as a member.)

For their last album, 2018’s 7, Beach House eschewed Coady’s services and instead approached Brit eccentric Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember, from the ’80s outfit Spacemen 3, to co-produce. The set lurched into both electro(clash) and glam rock with heavier rhythms and guitar riffs – the lead single, ‘Lemon Glow’, sounding like a trap Goldfrapp. The media deemed 7 a political protest record for the Trump era, but Beach House didn’t elaborate in interviews, their stance to merely refract the zeitgeist.

With Once Twice Melody, Beach House go it alone in the studio (albeit hiring Brit Alan Moulder to mix). Notably, the duo have employed a string ensemble for the first time. And, overall, Once Twice Melody is cinematic – Beach House evidently bidding for soundtrack projects. (Legrand previously duetted with Grizzly Bear for a Twilight movie.)

Yet, simultaneously, Beach House further develop a neo-psychedelia aesthetic that echoes through the ’60s, late ’80s and today via Lana Del Rey. ‘ESP’ evokes Tears For Fears’ hippie Beatles-inspired hit ‘Sowing The Seeds Of Love’ with a little Air thrown in (Legrand guested on the French act’s 2011 Le voyage dans la lune). ‘Sunset’ is folkier – being a bit Hope Sandoval, with Legrand’s wafty singing and acoustic guitar. ‘The Bells’, from Chapter 4, has a topline recalling Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ but is otherwise Paisley Underground boho.

Elsewhere, Beach House conjure more synth-pop atmospherics. Legrand might be channelling the ethereal Twin Peaks muse Julee Cruise on the broken fairytale ‘Pink Funeral’ – the closing guitar (by Michael Scally) a lament in itself. ‘Runaway’ is the closest Beach House have come to chillwave, with electro beats, arcade game synths and Legrand’s treated vocals. Again avant, ‘Masquerade’ is like an old New Romantic opus. The blithe ‘Hurts To Love’, previewed on St Valentine’s Day, is an intentionally twee bop with Casio-y organ and programmed drums – and the album’s poppiest moment.

Many of the album’s strongest numbers aired earlier. The pinnacle is the symphonic ‘Over And Over’, from Chapter 2. A song of mesmeric refrains, it builds suspensefully, rivalling Teen Dream’s ‘Norway’, Bloom’s ‘Myth’ and ‘Space Song’.

Some Once Twice Melody songs are unmemorable – accomplished arrangements compensating for a lack of tune. ‘New Romance’ has the mood, and tension, but not the melody. ‘Illusion Of Forever’ is virtually a synth interlude – sentimental, but somnolent. However, superfluous tracks are perhaps necessary intervals from the epics.

In ‘Modern Love Stories’, Once Twice Melody has an opulent, if ominous, Shakespearean epilogue, with silver-screen strings plus acoustic and slide guitar. It’s Morricone with a Bond score’s drama. Legrand sings about a Cleopatra, possibly the “she” of ‘Once Twice Melody’, while ruminating on the transitoriness of life and inevitable mortality: “From the early wars, to modern love stories/I reach into the darkness/The universe collects us.”

Once Twice Melody is magnificent, resounding and exhilarating. The dilemma is that it also may be Beach House’s career culmination. What could the band conceivably do next?

Beach House’s ‘Once Twice Melody’ is out now on Mistletone Records via Inertia.