Beach House had an interesting approach to their eighth studio album: try not making it a studio album at all. Instead, Once Twice Melody would be four separate EPs, promoted as different “chapters” of the album that would drop a few months apart and would collectively make up the final record.
The staggered approach could have easily led to Once Twice Melody feeling disjointed, but instead, the final product is a sprawling opus that delights in short bursts but inspires at full length. Beach House always had a hypnotic effect on the listener, with their swirling synths, industrial beats, and gentle vocals, and that hypnosis takes full effect when you dive into the entirety of the 85 minute LP.
On their own merits, the four separate chapters of Once Twice Melody were enjoyable but lacked a strong sense of impact. There didn’t seem to be any major distinction between why certain songs were grouped together, and the results were fun but fleeting. It’s really only when you give yourself over to the complete 18 song experience that the real weight of the band’s music translates in its entirety.
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have become experts at making sensory overload sound like blissful surrender. Over their now 15-year-plus career, the Baltimore duo has seemingly traversed every psychedelic plane imaginable. What other trippy sonics could they conjure up? What other keyboard settings were there to find? What new worlds could possible be stumbled upon?
As it turned out, the trick was to keep everything sounding the same. Throughout the feature-length tracklisting, the band stubbornly refuse to make any of their keyboards, drum machines, synth pads, or vocal melodies sound different from each other. This is why the four distinct chapters failed to have any kind of major payoff – it just sounded like the band were doing brief retreads of themselves. That’s actually exactly what they were doing, but at an extended length, it almost becomes like meditation. The lack of distinction creates an almost hallucinogenic effect, and after a while, you can feel yourself simply drifting into another state of mind as the music continues to carry you on.
Maybe that won’t be the ideal listening experience for some audiences. Those who require variety in their albums will be disappointed by Once Twice Melody, and indeed if the album were a standard 45 minute LP, it would probably be taken to task for its rote sameness. But at such a monumental length, Beach House dare you not to get lost in the immersive washes of music. Short attention spans have no place here, and that means that the album will almost surely find some detractors.
But for the rest of us, Once Twice Melody just gets more psychedelic and more mesmerising the longer that it goes on. By the time you reach the album’s fourth chapter, it becomes hard to tell how much time has passed or exactly what you had been doing for the past hour and change. But it doesn’t really matter, because the trance doesn’t let up until the music comes to its final endpoint.
Perhaps the impressionistic atmosphere goes too far in places. Throughout the entire listening experience, I had no idea what Legrand was saying and picked up even less on what, if anything, she was trying to articulate. When I went back to listen again, I found that the imagery became relatively vague and disappointing. Chapter three starts with ‘Sunset’, and Legrand’s detailing of “spider silk and sweet nonsense” epitomised most of the albums lyrical content: beautiful and wide open to interpretation, even if that interpretation doesn’t often amount to much.
Once again, that doesn’t matter as much as the music itself. It’s signature Beach House, and admittedly that makes most of it relatively predictable. But I don’t go into an AC/DC album hoping to hear an orchestral ballad. Similarly, I only ask one thing from a Beach House album: take me on a trippy journey. Once Twice Melody does that in spades, and the results are some of Beach House’s most enthralling, challenging, and affirming to date. This is Beach House at their maximalist best, even if you end up in the same place that you started at when it’s all said and done.