Fifteen-odd years into their career, Beach House is at a point where most artists have settled into “heritage” status at best or rehash at worst. But with “Once Twice Melody,” they’ve defied those and many other odds, creating an album that is unmistakably them, and at first blush not that different from their previous work, but one that gradually unveils more and more detail, like intricate painting viewed from different perspectives. Three years in the making, it’s their most definitive and probably their best work to date, and even more remarkable in these ADD-addled times, they’ve done it with a sprawling, 18-song album — their eighth — that is around 80 minutes long.
The Baltimore duo — singer/keyboardist Victoria LeGrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally — have long been the living definition of 21st century dream pop: hazy and soft-focused, drenched with reverb, heavy on vintage keyboard drones, gently pulsating rhythms and LeGrand’s lovely, lulling vocals, which makes it easy to zone out their music like an aural lava lamp and miss the sharpness of the melodies and the intricacy of the arrangements. Surprisingly, that element has been picked up by listeners well outside their expected demo: ten years ago their songs were sampled by the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar (and continue to be source material for hip-hop producers), and more recently, they’ve taken on a whole new life on TikTok, where the melancholy in much of their music makes a perfect soundtrack for a pithy pouty video.
There are plenty of precedents for Beach House’s sound — psychedelia, early ‘90s shoegaze, synthpop of every stripe — but the main one might be Cocteau Twins, whose music is similarly atmospheric, instantly identifiable and melodically beguiling, and seductive enough to keep you coming back over and over.
So what makes “Once Twice Melody” stand out from their previous career high point, 2015’s “Depression Cherry”? All of the above, in more lavish detail than ever: It all seems like one big, wafting sound until you listen closely and realize that six or seven different elements are happening simultaneously, and that lush wash of sound is actually a heavily treated acoustic guitar combined with a soaring string section and a backward electric guitar beneath a beautifully complex melody sung by LeGrand.
There are many peaks across the album’s 80 minutes: the prettiest song might be the sixth, “ESP,” which has a pop-hit-worthy melody camouflaged under gallons of reverb; nearly the entirety of “New Romance” is underpinned by a crazed calliope-like loop; “Another Go Around” is anchored by a bouncy bass riff and an uncharacteristically direct melody amid the synth washes. They also buried the poppiest song, “Hurts to Love,” on track 16, and probably deserve some kind of award for placing a song called “Finale” fifth-to-last in the running order.
The duo took an unusual approach to releasing this vast album — dropping it in four “chapters,” one per month, beginning last November. While it definitely made “Once Twice” easier to digest, it’s also the kind of album you can put on and leave on: vividly atmospheric, melodically beguiling, and seductive enough to keep you coming back over and over.