Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have always been expert world builders. Their records are swelling Feels Generators, powered as much by mood and vibe as songcraft. But with their eighth album they’ve created a galaxy. Once Twice Melody is by far — and by design — Beach House‘s most sprawling record to date, but it’s also their most cohesive, fully realized record since Bloom.
Once Twice Melody is an expansion/refinement of the ethereal sound of 2018’s 7, with Legrand’s once throaty, emotive vocal style giving way to a gentler, more tranquil and airy delivery. Likewise, the music soars through the space dust, shining with flashes of baroque folk, electropop, celestial prog, Cocteau Twins and Broadcast style dreampop, ’80s synth sounds, and ’90s toys, in addition to acoustic instruments, Beach House’s established bank of keyboard sounds, and — for the first time — a string section.
Also a first: Beach House produced this one themselves. They spent three years on it — a three-year process Legrand and Scally say was equal parts freeing and maddening — and ended up with a surplus of songs. It was a situation they’d been in before, but unlike 2015 when they released Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars within months of each other, these songs wanted to stay together. Scally told The Needle Drop’s Anthony Fantano that they tried to whittle it down to a 45 minute album but “when we found the 10 or 11 songs, it didn’t feel like the body of work anymore. It felt dead.” Legrand, meanwhile, told Pitchfork‘s Jillian Mapes that they knew “Nobody has any attention span” anymore but “this was just the record that had to come out for us artistically.”
Songs were grouped into four sidelong “chapters” that Beach House say tell their own complete emotional, thematic story while also contributing to the journey of the whole album. With this concept, as well as an urge for people to hear the music as soon as possible while faced with pandemic supply chain issues, they hit on an idea to release the chapters digitally every month leading up to the physical release of the album. It was anti-binge-mode, a microdose of their most psychedelic album yet, that in some ways mimicked the vinyl experience, allowing listeners to spend time with four or five new songs, before being able to flip it over to a new chapter.
Intensifying the album’s blissed-out vibe are the animated lyric videos for each of the album’s 18 songs which were animated by a group of very talented artists. Some are intensely psychedelic, others are pretty, some are both, and all seem made with the same level of care as the songs themselves. If you’re got a big TV hooked up to a decent sound system, there are worse things to do than turn up the volume and zone out to these visuals as Once Twice Melody‘s songs envelop you.
In that regard, Once Twice Melody sounds amazing — the band got Alan Moulder, who worked on all your favorite shoegaze records, to mix most of the album, with some tracks mixed by Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann, Caesar Edmunds (MBV, St Vincent) and Trevor Spencer (Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty). The layering of sounds is intoxicating, with a few sonic motifs recurring throughout the record. There are oceans of arpeggiated synthesizers, be it the pulsating ABBA kind that can drive a song, or the swirling, dream sequence variety that mimic a harp (and is quite possibly an Omnichord). There are also choral samples all over the album — think the low “Ahhhhs” in New Order’s “Blue Monday” — that provide a through-line to Beach House’s early cathedral sound, but here send it in to the cosmos. The strings add gorgeous ballast.
Once Twice Melody‘s title track both opens the album and sets the tone for what’s to come, with low, rolling synth bass, delicately plucked classical guitar, and those swirling synthesizers. Victoria’s voice is both sweet and icy, and when the strings swoop in just in time for some wistful “Bah dah dah de dahs,” Beach House have you firmly in their grasp. “Once Twice Melody” is pure cinema working in sound alone.
The album is full of such vivid moments: “Pink Funeral” opens with stabbing Psycho-esque strings before the horror gives way to fairy tale wonder; the soaring, heart-swelling “Romance” where Victoria sings, “my love drips in red, out of my mind at the edge of the sky”; “Sunset,” which is elevated by a mix of strings, acoustic guitars, some backwards soloing and an otherworldly Legrand vocal performance (“Just one key ties everything”); “Masquerade,” with its Rapman beat and Ladytron vibes; and “The Bells,” a warm bath of a song that is part Carpenters, part Elton John and all Beach House.
The most beautiful song on the album? My vote goes “Over and Over.” Things open with a full spotlight on Victoria, just light choral synths behind her, but when the chorus kicks in, the song blooms with waves of pure shimmer. Victoria sings, “All the little angels, forever and ever, one by one they open, over and over again,” and that’s what the song feels like too. The whole of Once Twice Melody ebbs and flows just like that song over the course of a nearly hour-and-a-half ride, and it’s a trip worth taking all the way to the end. Don’t be daunted; just take their hand and let them whisk you away, through the looking glass, out the window, into the stars.