Sometimes you fall in love with an album so truly, so deeply, it’s difficult to move beyond it. The band makes another album, but you’re still holding hands with the last one.
For legions of indie-rock fans, Beach House and Best Coast made defining records like that in 2010. That was the year Beach House, the celestial duo of singer Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, scaled euphoric heights on “Teen Dream.” On the other end of the spectrum was Best Coast’s debut, “Crazy for You,” a breezy valentine to the sun and sand of the band’s native California and a modern redux of 1960s beach pop.
The albums had little in common except for a surprising realization: Their follow-ups can’t quite emerge from the shadows of what came directly before them.
On Tuesday, Beach House will release “Bloom,” its fourth album since 2006 and first since the band was crowned indie-rock royalty. Out the same day is Best Coast’s “The Only Place,” which marks a step forward but also tries awfully hard to rise above the carefree spirit of its predecessor.
In Beach House’s defense, “Teen Dream” is essentially impossible to top. It was a watershed moment for the Baltimore-based Legrand and Scally. After two albums of dreamy, narcotic pop, Beach House finally exploded like a Roman candle shooting into the night. That album was a roller coaster of peaks and valleys and dragged you along for the ride.
“Bloom” doesn’t have much of those twists and turns. Coproduced by Chris Coady, who also worked on “Teen Dream,” the album is solid and consistent, just not as bold as it could have and should have been. It’s as mellow as a shot of novocaine from tip to tail, but nothing quite builds to a climax like “10 Mile Stereo” did on “Teen Dream.”
The songwriting is elliptical and obtuse, which is to say it’s right in line with what Beach House has always presented. I still have no idea what a line like “Your love is stag in the white sand/ Oasis child born into a man” means, but I can tell you exactly how transcendent it made me feel the first time it washed over me. Mood has always trumped meaning in Beach House’s music.
Legrand writes the words and sings lead, but Scally’s importance cannot be overstated. By having such a light touch on the electric guitar, he ends up bringing profound feeling and emotion to the music. He can make you cry; I speak from experience.
In five of the most shimmering minutes on the album, “On the Sea” captures that alchemy Legrand and Scally share. The way Scally echoes the melancholy refrain makes it sound like the guitar is shivering out in the cold.
“Irene” closes the album with what Beach House does best: a swirl of harmonies on high. (Stick around past nearly seven minutes of silence for a hidden track of sorts.) Even then, it feels like “Bloom” wanted to reach an astral plane but rarely took flight.
Best Coast’s “The Only Place” suffers from another problem entirely. After being dismissed as frivolous – which is the peril of singing almost exclusively about weed, boy troubles, and your cat named Snacks — frontwoman Bethany Cosentino wants to be taken seriously as a songwriter and singer.
She and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno enlisted Jon Brion, beloved for his work with Fiona Apple and Kanye West, to helm the production duties. He draws out the jangly guitar lines that had been buried before, and there’s a startling clarity in Cosentino’s vocals. Brion lifts the haze so prevalent in Best Coast’s aesthetic, but it turns out there was a lot of charm in the fuzz of that first album.
Cosentino mines familiar tropes here, scolding lovers who broke her heart; “You don’t know why I cry,” she sings repeatedly on “Why I Cry.” She burrows a little deeper on “Last Year,” but in the midst of laying herself bare, she forgot to write an interesting melody to cradle her lyrics.
With Cosentino’s voice free of effects and upfront in the mix, it’s more apparent just how rudimentary her songwriting is. The title track’s chorus isn’t nearly as compelling as Cosentino’s probably thinks it is:
“Why would you live anywhere else?/ We’ve got the ocean, got the babes/ Got the sun, we’ve got the waves/ This is the only place for me.”
Sonically, at least, “The Only Place” reveals new shades of Best Coast. It’s enlightening to hear Cosentino savor the sweeter side of love on a pair of ballads (“No One Like You” and “How They Want Me to Be”). A touch of Fleetwood Mac surfaces in “Do You Love Me Like You Used To,” and a detour into minor chords makes “Dreaming My Life Away” stand out in the band’s catalog.
Likewise, the genteel orchestral sweep of the closing “Up All Night” hints at maturity Cosentino didn’t have on her last outing. But in this case, it seems she’s trying to fix something that was never broken.