For most bands, being labeled "formulaic" is an insult. For Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House, it's a badge of honor. Though their recording budget has swelled over the years (along with their mystical, space-age image), they've essentially released increasingly excellent variations of the same album since their self-titled 2006 debut. Their "moment" came back in 2010: Teen Dream was an atom bomb of awesome, the rare critical darling time capsule disc that actually lived up to (and even surpassed) its seemingly overblown hype. So with Bloom, their anxiously awaited fourth studio album, the question at hand is: how the fuck do you follow one of the decade's best? Teen Dream II: Electric Boogaloo? An album of world music excursions? On Bloom, Beach House just go about their mind-blowing business. They haven't expanded on Teen Dream's sonic template so much as subtly enhanced certain colors and shades. "Wishes" has a beefed-up drum beat that borders on trip-hop; "Lazuli" starts with 30 seconds of 8-bit synth sparkle before the mesmerizing floodgates open. But that incense-lit, earth-shattering Beach House Sound is firmly intact: Alex Scally still wrings out every drop of reverb from his arpeggiated electric guitar; Victoria Legrand still sings in a ghostly siren echo, bending and swooping her lullaby melodies in slow motion. Do a blow-by-blow comparison and Bloom doesn't quite stack up to its masterpiece predecessor: the oceanic "On the Sea" and "Troublemaker" simply drift into pretty nothingness. But otherwise, it's — whaddya know — an early end-of-year contender, especially on its absolutely spotless first half. Beach House haven't fallen back to Earth — they're just a couple miles closer. Bloom is a sonic boomerang: resist if you must, but you'll inevitably end up right back where you started — sucked into their heavenly sonic utopia.
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