The Heart of Dream-Pop: Beach House Returns with Once Twice Melody

Photo Courtesy of Pitchfork

Sofia Lyon

Executive Content Editor

On Feb. 18, Baltimore-based dream-pop duo Beach House released their ninth full-length album, Once Twice Melody. The pair opted for an unconventional release, choosing four sets of about 4-5 songs that would be featured on the album throughout the past few months. In an interview, they explain this decision was motivated by the desire to keep as many of the songs they spent two years working on on the record, without needing to cut out half of them. Guitarist Alex Scally explained that when they did attempt to cut songs, “it felt like it wasn’t the body of work anymore. It felt dead […] like it was missing a limb.” Victoria Legrand, on the other hand, said only one word of the decision: “Scale.”

Once the pair knew they had a double album on their hands, they chose to split it up based on record sides, as self-proclaimed “vinyl nerds.” The subsequent choice to release each disc gradually felt natural and allowed them to begin putting new music out earlier rather than later.

When I first heard disc one of Once Twice Melody, I have to admit it was disappointing. Critics of Beach House often comment on the pair’s lack of sonic diversity across their discography, arguing the pair backed themselves into a uniform and unoriginal dream-pop, light shoegaze sound. I always turned the other cheek to these criticisms – even if Beach House’s music did sound the same, it all sounded good, with poignant and stylistic production, composition, and lyricism. 

However, upon listening to the first disc, I began to hear what other critics heard. Like I said, I’m a devoted fan to the expansive, ethereal, and dreamy sounds that define Beach House. Even when their albums sounded congruous, each prior album had at least a few songs that I considered phenomenal. That was until I listened to disc one, where no song stood out to me as especially intricate.

Because of this experience, I chose to wait until the release of the full album to listen to the rest, so I could judge the album as a full atmospheric experience, which Beach House has a particular knack for creating. I was glad with my decision. While I would by no means consider this the best Beach House album, nor even one of my favorites, listening to the record uninterrupted in its entirety allowed me to reconnect with the pure theatrics of Beach House and reminded me why I fell in love with the group in the first place.

Listening to the entire 80 minute record in full demonstrated the actual instrumental diversity among the tracks. While their lush and vast sound remains, intricate drumbeats and acoustic sounds offer a sound we haven’t previously heard from Beach House. Acoustic tracks like “Sunset,” alongside the mildly discordant sounds and heavy guitars of “Modern Love Stories,” are reminiscent of Mazzy Star, another prolific shoegaze/dream-pop group.

This album, like most other Beach House records, is filled with some standout gems. Its opener, “Once Twice Melody,” is by no means the greatest Beach House hit, but its grand and building synths offer a warm invitation into the record. “Pink Funeral” delivers on the iconic, spacey, ethereal tunes we know and love, with some melodic lyricism.

“New Romance” is my personal favorite on this record. Sounding like the soundtrack of a teenage love story, this track delivers on its melancholy and tender lyrics. Legrand’s angelic vocals singing, “Night after night, we say our goodbyes / My love drips in red out of my mind at the edge of the sky / You feel your heart break and you don’t know why,” rival the poignant lyricization of their 2015 hit, “Space Song.”

“Only You Know” is another wispy tune, with repetitive lyrics that seem to mirror M83 or even Radiohead. “Another Go Around” offers a pained yet romantic track, with simplistic yet heartfelt imagery: “‘Cause the game that you play seems to get in the way/ And the one you need isn’t there.” “Masquerade” follows with dense synths and a vibey atmosphere, with descending and ascending notes like those in the aforementioned “Space Song.”

Disc four arguably offers the best lyrics of the record in its isolated narrative. “Finale” tells of a lost love, with impactful images like, “Rollerskating in the parking lot / I don’t care ’cause I like it vacant / Do you know what your heart is for?” “The Bells” also describes the imaginings of a beautiful romance and yearning, standout lines being: “There’s just something about you when I look out at the stars,” and “Whenever you were driving, I’d put my feet up on the dash / I’d imagine stories about everywhere we’d pass.”

However, to return to the point of Beach House’s recognizable and distinct sound, the album suffers from its length. Their sound is perhaps too similar, relies too heavily on similar instrumentation and pacing, that there is less possibility for a diversity of sound across each song. Previous albums such as Bloom and and even Depression Cherry were short enough to allow for greater sonic diversity, while maintaining the iconic, dreamy sounds of the group. With an album of this length, the echoey songs become harder to distinguish from one another. “Over and Over” and “Illusion of Forever” are both beautiful tunes, with nice lyrics and melodies, but they are lost in the middle of the album.

Once Twice Melody is a poignant return to Beach House’s distinct, drippy nostalgia, while also being a fresh departure. Though some tracks are lost in the expanse, it is that expanse that sets Beach House apart from other dream-pop groups. We can crawl into these records, float around in them, and process the pain and comfort of memory. Beach House has always, and will forever be, the ideal soundtrack to solitary tears, loving slow dances, or drives to beautiful places under the stars. This is the singular and powerful goal of dream-pop: to remind us of the beauty of our hearts, of our uniquely human proclivity for dreaming; something Beach House never fails to do.