Clocking in at 84 minutes, Once Twice Melody retains Beach Houses’ incredible knack for wistful pop melody.
While any number of their contemporaries have stumbled and faded, or at the very least, committed themselves to performing exclusively for an increasingly niche, aging audience, Beach House miraculously remains widely popular and relatively cool. They achieve this in part by minimizing interactions with press and adamantly guarding their general privacy, having managed to obscure the nature of their lives outside the band for the 18 years in which they’ve been active. A simple yet effective tactic that has successfully protected their creative energy without rupturing their carefully cultivated persona, it has also maybe kept them from the things acts like Arcade Fire and St. Vincent thirsted after (arena shows, collabs with legacy bands), but Beach House’s cultural pervasiveness has yet to recede like theirs has, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s music finding a whole new audience last year when Depression Cherry track “Space Song” became a TikTok fave. There even appears to be a collaboration with Ye in the works, suggesting that Legrand and Scally aren’t against working their tastemaker credentials, though, as they demonstrate on latest album Once Twice Melody, remain committed to their vision first and foremost.
It’s a vision that has mostly remained consistent from their self-titled debut, fleshed out with lusher and more expensive production as they went along naturally, but mostly holding fast, carefully refined, never wholly reinvented or subverted. Beach House’s previous album, 2018’s 7, strayed the furthest, recalibrating the band’s sonic stylings somewhat with assistance from producer Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, but the more guitar-forward project remained firmly in proximity of Legrand and Scally’s larger aesthetic proclivities — vague, evocative, psychedelic lyricism; grand, ethereal, pitch-shifting vocals; big, dreamy soundscapes, etc. The uniformity between albums is such that critics of Beach House have an easy time issuing credible, reductive dismissals of their work, but Legrand and Scally have always been savvy about spacing out releases and avoiding oversaturation (the exception being the under-appreciated Thank Your Lucky Stars, which fell victim to being their second LP in one year), having instinctively kept pace with their listeners’ desire for new music.
In this way, Once Twice Melody may stir up conflicted feelings amongst Beach House devotees old and new (who made it the best selling album in the U.S. in its first week on sale) and further solidify the haters’ stance, the band having returned after four years away with a hefty double album of 18 songs that clocks in at a feature-length 84 minutes. Once Twice Melody is definitely a lot of Beach House, so much so that the album was doled out in 4-5 song chapters over the course of 4 months, a release strategy that didn’t cause a major stir, but does suggest a useful way of digesting this towering work. As suggested in press for Once Twice Melody, Beach House is well aware of the inevitable perception of this project as unwieldy, but feel justified in committing to this runtime in the spirit of iconically indulgent late works like Tusk and in defiance of a distracted audience increasingly disinterested in this release format. The resulting album is indeed a challenge initially, the stylistic variances between songs never dramatic enough to allow for passive differentiation from track to track, yet their melting together isn’t inherently a weakness. Beach House’s music most generally succeeds at fulfilling a dual purpose, their albums able to be appreciated as a whole piece (sometimes earning them a more pessimistic “background music” label) or as a collection of individual songs and singles.
Once Twice Melody proves no different, although many listeners may find themselves engaging less actively with this one, at least at first, but the duo’s knack for wistful pop melody remains incredible, and listeners will likely find hooks and bridges resurfacing in memories they hadn’t known they’d internalized. “New Romance,” the album’s second chapter, is perhaps most indicative of this quality, with “Runaway” and “ESP” being particular, early standouts reminiscent of Devotion era Beach House, but those who still appreciate the vibe will find that the edgier, sparer third chapter, “Masquerade,” and the more classically sweeping closing section, “Modern Love Stories,” have their own revelations to impart. Still, the stylistic variations between these chapters are not so loud, and some will understandably check out at points. What Once Twice Melody suggests is that, at this point, Beach House isn’t so concerned about chasing after those who are skeptical of tuning in, recent history suggesting that these two have maybe always been a little more ahead of the curve than we’ve assumed.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 3.