By Morgan Hooks
Despite Beach House being openly my favorite artist since high school, I have truthfully never been capable of encapsulating what the discography of the Baltimore duo has offered me as a listener throughout the years. Beach House is a raw, unfiltered emotion. It is an electric sunset from a 360 degree overlook. It is a tight, warm hug. It is a full-length feature film with award winning cinematography, yet the screen of the movie theater is completely pitch black.
For seventeen years, Beach House has crafted a signature, euphoric sound that allows their listeners to transcend to a safe space where all feelings are felt, heard, seen, and understood. Beach House has provoked weeping tears, toothy grins, and full-bellied laughter, but most of all, genuine growth. They are therapeutic, healing, and groundbreaking. Scrolling through their YouTube comment section, everyone who has longingly followed the band has an unspoken pivotal connection with them and their music. Consequently, Beach House has seemingly released new projects when their fanbase is collectively experiencing major changes and in dire need of a soundtrack to detail their experiences. I recall 2018’s 7 being placed in my hands when I needed it the most. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally surely possess a knack for divine timing.
Once Twice Melody, the band’s upcoming eighth studio album, is an amalgamation of the band’s audial schemings from the past three years since the release of 7. In an essay released through Subpop, the band’s label, it was revealed that “the writing and recording of Once Twice Melody began in 2018 and was completed in July 2021. Most of the songs were created during this time, though a few date back over the previous 10 years.” 2018’s 7 was a recorded depiction of a cosmic refresh. Notably, it was the duo’s most ambitious recorded project to date, with Legrand and Scally aiming to create in moods and allowing those moods to dictate the direction of the album, rather than their respective instruments.
Once Twice Melody teases the ambitious strides that the band has since made to their sound throughout four phases, each set for monthly releases throughout the winter of 2021 and early 2022. While each EP to come appears as a separate piece of the puzzle, singer Victoria Legrand unveiled to Apple 1 Music’s Matt Wilkinson that “they fit as one overarching, 1-18 story.” Chapter One, released November 10th, is undoubtedly an interpretative tale unfolding throughout the four track EP, and I am eager to hear what listeners absorb from its lyrics. Subpop’s essay teased additional audial treats for listeners to anticipate, including Beach House’s usage, for the first time, of a string ensemble, signifying a massive upgrade from mechanical strings on Legrand’s keyboard. Another celebratory first for the band, Once Twice Melody is a record produced entirely by the dynamic duo themselves.
Initially, I sat down to stream through Chapter One of Once Twice Melody before noticing that Beach House released a roughly twenty-minute animated album on their YouTube to accompany the tracklist - each chapter will include these corresponding animations, as the essay teased. I was compelled to sit through the visuals and write purely what spoke to me. Below is a taste of what Beach House has offered me and how the duo has further shaped me with this initial tease of Once Twice Melody - what I am able to put into words, anyway.
Chapter One opens with the titular track, “One Twice Melody.” We are in a deep, vast space - I recognize this as where most of my experiences with Beach House begin, my heart thumping as I await the curtain to drop. Glimmers and gentle waves chaperone the twinkling strings, and with the initial shake of snare, the sun rises and Once Twice Melody commences. We are introduced to a woman with striking red lipstick and the emerald eyes that will act as the lens in which we will be watching this story unfold. Legrand utilizes the imagery of shadows playfully throughout Chapter One. In “Once Twice Melody,” the story starts with a woman who is growing successful, navigating her newfound status and the “never, never land” she now calls home. As “days go by” throughout the track, the woman appears to grow arrogant, seeing others in this same shadow; a shadow of herself. “Once Twice Melody” is entrancing, as our ears float in a timelapse through Beach House’s melodies, and our eyes watch the inner workings of her mind. “Once Twice Melody” fades out with the starlet hanging among the stars at last, watching the world fly by beneath her. All is calm, or so it seems.
"Superstar" — a song that could surpass Teen Dream’s "Silver Soul” as my most beloved from Beach House — is a rainbow melting in on itself, a static warmth spreading throughout, and the weightlessness of space (or as close as I will get to experiencing it). The accompanying animation details that perfectly, serving, too, as a vivid illustration of that safe space that Beach House crafts for their audience. In this instance, the woman floats through this colorscape herself, reflecting on the loss of a relationship, presumingly our 'Superstar' in question who “may be out of sight, [but] is never out of mind.” Legrand details this person, while someone that the woman values, who is on the run and “not the only one shadowed from the sun,” approaches a dead end. Perhaps, the one now shunned to the shadows is the woman herself. Scally’s riffs and the partnered orchestra blend together beautifully, gliding the listener through a twisting, turning, beaming geometric tunnel and then - release. I quite enjoyed Legrand’s additions on the keyboard in the bridge, which, to me, mimicked the sounds of a passerby shooting star.
"Pink Funeral" took three listens for me to absorb. I was taken aback to hear such sharp, harsh sounds from Beach House, but in the most pleasant way possible. The track showcases the added string section remarkably, with an opening that has the listener questioning if this is the score at the beginning of an eighties slasher. Visions of colliding infernos, ghostly figures, and strobe lights put you on your toes, and Legrand leaves you there. Her voice haunts the backtrack, as her synth pads pulse in unison with the flashes. Generally, the song heavily utilizes the imagery of closed doors and a sense of hell, reflecting on fairytale swans and soft strums of a violin that led to an inevitable downfall into this shaking, fiery abyss. At this point, the woman has reached a climatic anger following this breakup, recounting “blue skies turned black” and “hearts that were meant to break.” As the sound tugs rapidly between delicacy and desperation, Legrand excels at depicting the woman’s spiral. “Pink Funeral” ends with a raging guitar and a surprise solo from Scally. I desperately need more glimpses of this heavy metal side of Scally throughout Once Twice Melody.
I found myself gravitating towards “Through Me” the most on this EP. The track acts as the story’s resolution, as Legrand dances through a delicate melody and the thump of a heartbeat, coming to a degree of acceptance with the events that Chapter One detailed. The woman, who we now know as Violet, lets the light go through her, coming to terms with an end, with Legrand asking, “Do you recognize it? Did you try to hide it?” Violet, stripped down to the woman she was when we met her in track one, gives in and emerges from the shadows. Nonetheless, she is unable to forget all of the possibilities that are to come and “all of the lifetimes sweeping right by,” playfully placing the audience on a cliffhanger that may or may not be resolved in Chapter Two. In the animation, we are once again tumbling through the opaque tunnel, but this time, there is a glimpse of the sun on the other side. With euphoric keys and a soaring guitar, Legrand and Scally urge the audience to “let the light go” through them. “Through Me” captures the existential comfort that Beach House has crafted to a T. Legrand’s voice echoes wobbly as we pass through the tunnel entrance, awaiting her on the other side.
Once Twice Melody: Chapter One is worthy of streaming once, twice, infinitely. Undoubtedly, Beach House grows and grows while maintaining the sound skeleton that binds them time and time again at the top of the dream pop genre. With each experiment that the duo dives into, the outcome is mind blowing, and I am without a doubt rendered speechless with each song. I am eager to hear how the string section is further utilized throughout the record, the stories that are to be told within this universe, and the tranquility that twelve additional Beach House tracks will surely bring to their audience.