Monday, April 23, 2012

The Myth of Spring: A Review of Beach House's "Bloom"


 Alex Theoharides (@Minne_Pop) explains the meaning of Beach House's new album "Bloom."


The Myth of Spring
by Alex Theoharides
 

Track 1, “Myth”

Spring came early to Minneapolis this year. In March, my neighbors’ yards were covered in tiny blue wildflowers and white magnolia blossoms opened, releasing their cool and sweet scent across Linden Hills. A few weeks later, red and yellow tulips began to spring out of the ground. Now the flowers on the crabapple trees are beginning to bloom. And in a few weeks time, the city streets will be covered in fallen white and pink petals; the temperature will rise; summer will be here.

In the spring, it is easy to perpetuate the myth of new beginnings. Life seems fragile and elegant, uncertain winds blow, friendships change, new love blooms. For small pockets of time, slippery, and undefined moments, it can almost feel like life is drifting forward, changing, beginning anew. Dreams, long buried beneath the snow and grit of winter, are rediscovered, reclaimed. Momentarily, all the things we want to become but aren’t yet, all the projects we’ve started but haven’t finished, all the places we’ve visited in guidebooks but haven’t seen, seem possible. All we have to do is reach out and grab them.

This is the myth of spring.

*    *     *

Beach House’s latest effort Bloom is the sort of album that elicits thoughts of spring. It slips between dreamily epic songs about the dreams we have, the love we’ve always imagined, and wandering, regal pop songs about why we still pursue our dreams, and our loves, even when we know how futile they are.

On the first track, “Myth,” Victoria Legrand asks, “What comes after this,” in a soft and pleading tone, before answering, “Momentary bliss/The consequence/Of what you do to me.” Then she repeats the line, “Help me to make it,” twice. The you she references isn’t so much a specific love, as it is her enduring love for the myth of spring, the myth of childhood, the fallacy that there is some lasting potent in becoming (or blooming) into the I we have always wanted to be. Even when our myths are within reach, even when we can and do reach them, all they offer is “momentary bliss.”

Still the reaching seems to be important to Legrand—even more important than the act of actually grabbing hold of our dreams.

“Help me to make it,” she asks. “Help me to make it.”


Track 2, “Wild”

Perhaps due to the sad reality that I have never exhibited any talent for music (other than the brilliant ten second songs I perform for the forgiving ears of my wife and dog), whenever I listen to new music, I tend to hear the emotions—the pulsing underbelly that propels an album forward—of the songs first, searching for a “feeling” that rings true to my own experience.

When I was very young, I was drawn to the cheery, and easily emotive, cool of the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Billy Joel, and The Beach Boys. In high school, my taste in music scurried up and down a hormonal gamut, moving from the glorious anthems of Led Zeppelin to the wit and foolishness of Cake, the angst of Nirvana to the bravado of the Fugees. I was searching for a sound that captured the difficult emotions of being dramatic and bitter, but also hopeful about the enduring beauty of life. I rarely analyzed why I liked a particular band or song; instead, I chose to follow the tracks of my emotions blindly, trusting that where they were leading me was where I was meant to be.


*    *    *

“Wild,” begins with a static prelude, followed by a steady backbeat and an upbeat tempo. Then Legrand enters with the lyrics, “My mother said to me/That I would get in trouble.” The thrill of trouble seems to be exactly what Legrand is searching for; and in the full context of the album, the word trouble takes on an even grander note, representing Beach House’s yearning thesis that there is some hope for us yet in the wildness of life.

When we are young, the promise of spring is wild days to come, trouble ahead. Even trouble, however, can sometimes be difficult to predict and difficult to reach. Midway through the track, the music pauses for a moment, before springing forward again as Legrand sings, “Our windy, endless spring/Your eyes are so misleading.” Either the trouble she is searching for isn’t what she expected it to be, or it is and that is the problem. If we can find the trouble we’re searching for, how troubling can it really be? “Wild in our way,” Legrand concludes, “We go, go on pretending.”


*    *     *

On a cool night in April, during my senior year of high school, my friend Silas and I bought cheap cigars at the 7-Eleven in Indian Orchard, and then drove aimlessly around our hometown, trying to find somewhere to smoke them. As we drove, we listened to my latest mixtape and stared out at the stale spectacle of Wilbraham and Hampden. We both knew our friendship and our lives would never be quite the same. We were going to different colleges, moving in different directions in our lives. That night we were searching for a way to cement our memories of high school, without burying our hope that in college our lives would blossom, our stories growing more alive, our adventures more wild.

We stopped driving when we came across an abandoned worksite, an old farm that was being converted into a housing development. I pulled my car down the farm’s long dirt driveway and parked next to the ruins of a grain silo. Then Silas and I got out of the car and wandered around the old farm. The sky was clear, and in the distance we could just make out the lights from Springfield’s decrepit skyline. After a few minutes of staring out at the lights, we walked back toward the car and leaned against the grain silo.

“Let’s light these,” Silas said, breaking the silence.

I nodded and he handed me my cigar.

As we smoked, we proceeded to share our dreams for life in the earnest way that young men speak when they believe they are talking like real men do. Our dreams were both wild and predictable. The word love was mentioned. So was travel and fame and affluence. Once we were buzzing enough on the acrid smoke from the cigars to be honest, Silas mentioned his “if all else fails” dream of moving to Hawaii and working as a carpenter.

“Like Jesus,” I said, stupidly.

“Yes, Alex. Like Jesus.”

I smiled, and then—tongue partially in cheek—I told Silas that in college I planned on having an affair with a rich, Saratoga woman, and becoming a kept man like Paul Varjak in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Neither of us said anything for a moment. Then Silas turned to look at me. “I just don’t want either of us to become the sort of people who have normal jobs and go to work and end up living somewhere like here,” he said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of Springfield.

“We won’t,” I lied.

Then we finished our cheap cigars and drove back home.


*    *    *

Track 7, “New Year”

My hopes for the summer to come are simple and real. I want to ride my bike to work everyday, to stop watching mediocre television, to play on a slow pitch softball team, to read novels that excite me to start writing fiction again, to swim in Lake Harriet long after the sun has gone down and the other swimmers have gone home, to drink dark rum on a rooftop patio with good friends, to cook more and eat out less, to learn how to make the perfect fish taco, to come up with a good answer, once and for all, for why I don’t like John Steinbeck, to spend a week sleeping outside, to write a short story that I don’t hate, to watch basketball, without wishing I still knew how to play, to take a long and wandering walk that leads me to my first real house, to record all the stories my grandfather has ever told me about his old life in Greece and his new life in New York, to be good to the people I love, to stay in touch with my friends who live far away, and to be a better, truer version, of who I am.


*    *    *

On the seventh track of Bloom, the emotional tone of the album shifts subtly. “All I want comes in colors,” Legrand sings. “Stranger things will come before you/We keep these promises, these promises.” The music sways along with her lyrics; there is steady backbeat, and a droning, stirring, humming sound permeates the song, providing a balance between Legrand’s even tone and her wistful lyrics. Although she was never given all the “stranger things” she promised herself she would have, somehow it seems that she has found a way to move past them.

“New Year” is about moving past the wild myths of our youth, and learning to accept, and even love, the world we have reached. As she stares at herself in the mirror, Legrand knows that she is not young anymore. “You were getting wiser,” she sings, presumably to the departing myths of her youth. “It’s better this way/All you ever wanted is to get in the way.”

“New Year” provides the rebuttal to Beach House’s earlier thesis that there is hope for us yet in the wildness of life. The hope Legrand discovers comes not from her search for wildness or her memory of childhood myths. Instead, she finds hope in the memory of who she was when she was young. “Heard me calling,” she sings. “Just enough to tell a story/About a portrait of a/Young girl waiting for a new year.”

Legrand is still the same person she always was—her dreams, her myths, her promises are all still blooming. The only thing that’s changed is that now that she is older she has stories to tell. She has lived the dreams and the myths and the promises. There is a new year to come, and with it, new stories to make and old stories to tell.


*    *    *

I’ve spent the last five days listening to Beach House’s Bloom. In a way, the experience has been an awakening. Not because I think the album will change anything about my life (music no longer holds that possibility for me), but because it has reminded me of the importance of listening, of searching for new sounds, new understandings, new hypotheses about why we are all here and what we are meant to do.

As I grow older, I tend to fight new rationalities, retreating in a protective circle around what I know and love. The music I listen to now is the music I have always, and will always, love. Some of my old friends have grown closer. Others have slipped away. Silas, for instance, lives in Rosario, where he is still searching to make a life in his own way. Last summer, both of us got married. For a few months, as we prepared to depart our childhoods, we exchanged long letters with each other. Between the lines of his letters, Silas told me about the heartache he’d experienced as an actor in New York, and the bullshit of being young and creative but also at a loss for what to say and who to say it too. Between the lines of my letters, I told him about the mystifying quality of my dreams, the frustration of knowing and seeing what I want to find, but not being able to share it with the world.

Silas and I still write each other occasionally (he is much better at staying in touch than I am), and I am certain that despite the distance between us we will always be close. Friendships work that way. The people we know best never change. They just become wiser, better able to tell their stories about life and better prepared to search for whatever it is that they are still searching for.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Alex,

    I must first commend you. This is well written and the fact that you are a candid and finely tuned narrator is apparent from the opening lines. However, for the same reason film buffs do not like American movies so does this post falter. I am only mentioning this since I think you are so intelligent and display promise.

    Now, European films (especially of the 20th C.) will have a bright opening that is then followed by a darker reckoning. Illusion followed by truth. This is the theme of your extremely excellent first section. This section is what good writing looks like. It is hard and tacit and unflinchingly resolute.

    This section is also displeasing to many. It offers a truth that nearly anyone would find disheartening at some basic human level. Therefore, I don't blame you when you begin to (very slowly) backpedal through the rest of your piece.

    I would, however, tell you to refuse the sentimentality of improvement and hope. You already awesomely exposed the whole concept of change as a farce. David Foster Wallace would have loved the first section but probably wouldn't have loved the last three.

    Why? Because in America we want movies to have a happy ending. You go for the "still searching" route in the end. You use terms like "what we are meant to do" and "a better, truer version, of who I am." Alex, I don't mean to be the bearer of bad theory but there is nothing we are "meant" to do. The search will turn up nothing. Indeed, there is no real "I". When you write to your friend about the "mystifying quality" of your dreams you hit this fallacy dead on. For dreams have no integral meaning. They might display a hope or problem or wish that is lingering in the cranial passageways but, at heart, they are randomizations based on the randomization that is life.

    Ah Alex, let us eschew The Myth of Spring. Life gets worse, not better. Our bodies falter. What we were once so sure of (if we are even remotely intelligent) becomes confused and strange. You know all this. You wrote it. Ah Alex, I am with you!

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