If you’re like me, you might’ve held your breath when you heard Beach House‘s newest LP would be a four-part, 18-track, 84-minute epic. An album like this would be overstuffed and overly long-winded in most hands. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Once Twice Melody. Credit Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand’s incredible work ethic—the album took over three years to complete—and a little help from Alan Moulder, who mixed albums for My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and the Jesus & Mary Chain. Wherever you give credit, Once Twice Melody is that rare thing: a very long record (consisting of four “chapters”) that somehow never wears out its welcome.
How did Beach House do it? The answer is relatively simple. Once Twice Melody doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, nor does it follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. It’s not a record with a definite “place” in Beach House’s catalogue—it’s not a leftward turn, a change of pace, or even more of the same. This LP feels like a summation of everything Beach House has ever done in many ways. It’s got the sunny, the gothic, the theatrical, the inward-looking. It avoids the trappings of other long albums through its infinite variation.
We get the usual sunny-side Beach House on tracks like “Sunset”, with its punchy springtime guitars, and “over and over”, with its majestic choral synths and lyrics about roses, lilacs, and little angels (what could be more Beach House?). But we also get plenty of heartbreak Beach House, as on “New Romance”, where a gorgeous piano arpeggio ascends and descends over Legrand’s tearful verses. “Night after night we say our goodbyes / My love drips in red out of my mind at the edge of the sky”. Then there’s “The Bells”, arguably Once Twice Melody‘s highlight, with its drippy, saturated guitar tone and Legrand’s slow-churning vocals.
There’s also plenty of gothic Beach House, too. The duo certainly showed flashes of their gothic side on the last album, 7 (especially on “Black Car”), but they take it to the next level on “Masquerade”. The track is carried along by resounding gongs, sinister bass, and whiplike kickdrums—arguably the darkest moment in Beach House’s discography. “Pink Funeral” is a similarly haunting moment, with its horror-movie piano stabs and lyrics of fairy tales gone to hell. It even features an unusual (but brilliant) guitar solo from Scally. The guitar has a sickly, wailing sound that pairs perfectly with the song’s dark imagery.
Once Twice Melody isn’t perfect; there are some sleepers here and there and a few songs that sound like they could’ve been B-sides from 7 or Depression Cherry. It’s is also not without its cheesy lyrics, especially on the cliché-ridden “Hurts to Love” (“Looking out at the wide, wide world / It’s a lot for the boys and girls / There’s a lot of bad things out there / When they nod and they just don’t care”). For the most part, however, Once Twice Melody succeeds where other albums of its length fail. It showcases everything Beach House do well and stands as a testament to their incredible staying power and constant refining of their sound.
Some people say that Beach House never change, but this is a shallow take. The Beach House of Once Twice Melody is a very different band from the one that made Devotion and Teen Dream. The changes happen subtly and are usually too small to notice from one album to the next. The duo is always tinkering around the edges of their sonic universe, getting darker, weirder, subtler, and more expansive. They do all of that on Once Twice Melody, and the payoff is enormous.