Tue, May 22, 2012 - Page 16 News List

CD reviews

Bloom, by Beach House; The System, by Romain; AM/FM, by Rita Wilson

NY Times News Service

Bloom, by Beach House

BLOOM

Beach House

Sub Pop

Beach House plays as if its music has all the time in the world. From its 2006 debut album to its new one, Bloom, Beach House, the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, has fixated on one kind of song: stately, undulating, verse-chorus-verse pop that circles through three or four chords as if they could continue unto infinity. The music dissolves girl groups, minimalist patterns, rock anthems, drones and lullabies into a thoughtful stasis. Instead of seeking to create peaks and valleys, Beach House songs thicken without building up; they find equipoise and hold it.

On Bloom, Beach House’s fourth and most sumptuous album, time often is the songs’ subject as well as their medium. “What comes after this momentary bliss/ the consequence,” Legrand sings in Myth. Songs contemplate the ephemeral and the eternal, mortality and memory, cycles larger than individual lives: “Time will tell in spite of me,” Legrand sings in On the Sea, continuing, “In hind of sight no peace of mind/ where it begins and we’re defined.”

Beach House started as a low-fi project, using a Yamaha keyboard and its built-in drum machine along with slide guitar. But with its 2010 album, Teen Dream, the duo gave up austerity and let the music seek the grandeur that previous albums only blueprinted. It was the right choice, and Bloom wisely expands on it. Songs start with the old dinky sounds, almost as indie nostalgia. But Legrand regularly becomes her own choir, shallow keyboard tones are joined by richer ones, and Daniel Franz adds physical drums to the machine beats; meanwhile, the guitar reverb expands toward the horizon.

If Beach House had any taste at all for melodrama, bloat and bombast might be the result. Almost miraculously, Bloom escapes sounding overblown; Legrand’s voice stays humanly imperfect, and when an arrangement approaches a crest, Beach House chooses patience and humility over a big immediate payoff.

Irene, the album’s finale (though there’s a hidden additional track after a long silence), is a majestic march, gradually assembling phalanxes of keyboards and guitars. But just when it might have burst into a giant chorus, Beach House chooses instead to repeat a single guitar note and a steadfast drumbeat for nearly a minute, and the awaited chorus finally arrives as a rapturous meditation. “It’s a strange paradise,” Legrand sings: the serene pop sanctuary where Beach House lingers.

— Jon Pareles, NY Times News Service

THE SYSTEM

Romain

Virgo

The reggae singer Romain Virgo opens his second album, The System, with the title track, a stinging indictment of government shortcomings and the domino effects that result from them. Right after that comes Minimum Wage, a horn-heavy lament about the intractability of poverty in the Marley tradition, updated with the slickness of modern love songs.

Virgo, who first came to attention through an American Idol-type singing competition in Jamaica, is so present, so affecting on these songs that it’s easy to mistake his cries for something more soothing. But the high points of this smooth and engaging album are those difficult moments, in which this singer resiliently labors under heavy burdens, all with a tender, sweet, unhurried voice.

To be fair, though, he’s an all-purpose emoter, and plenty of other things motivate him. Mama’s Song celebrates the woman who helped him navigate his way through a challenging childhood, and songs like Ray of Sunshine are bright, colorful declarations of love. Virgo even handles romantic disappointment the same way, as on Fantasize, in which he covets someone else’s woman but sounds so earnest doing so that it’s hard to be mad.

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