Beach House: Once Twice Melody – A richly rewarding 85 minutes

This double album is a diverse, innovative and well-considered collection of songs

Once Twice Melody
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Artist: Beach House
Genre: Rock
Label: Bella Union

Fans will already be familiar with three-quarters of the material on Once Twice Melody, the expansive four-disc record from dream-pop duo Beach House. The band have divided these 85 minutes into four “episodes”, released one by one, with the fourth instalment due to complete the set next Friday. With contemporaries Big Thief releasing their excellent 20-track double LP on the same day, it seems that the reputation of modern albums as bloated and overstuffed is being significantly challenged.

The episodic release certainly helps Once Twice Melody in that regard: those with short attention spans risk growing restless, so each episode is considerately curated to move towards a sense of closure. That said, those who do manage to pay attention for its duration will find Once Twice Melody to be a rewarding experience.

Victoria Legrand’s vocal performance hits a perfect balance between mechanical, moody, witchy and tender. New Romance (surely one of the band’s best songs – and there’s a few of those on this record) is as striking lyrically as it is musically: headlights run down walls, daylight moves backwards, love drips in red. “It’s beginning to look like the end,” Legrand delivers at the track’s nexus, the refrain “I-L-Y-S-F-M” ethereally lost in a digital landscape like a text unanswered.

Guitars are spare but effective; The Bells employs slide guitar wonderfully, full of tender expression. Sunset, the centre point of the album, builds on a bedrock of acoustic guitar, vocal rounds and increasingly expansive synths before the subtle yet immensely emotive introduction of live drums late in the track. It’s a light touch, but this album is full of such small, attentive instances that make it shine.


Masquerade matches its dark lyrics – a woman with black eyes appearing in a mirror – with ominous whispers, cold inverted vocals and compressed percussion. The introduction of a live string ensemble (with arrangements by David Campbell) for the first time in the band’s work adds to the cinematic resonance of Legrand’s vivid imagery, at times calling to mind the futurist anxieties of Laurie Anderson or the gothic dream pop of Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, but rooted in a style that is entirely their own.

Once Twice Melody is an exciting prospect for those who welcome alternatives to traditional 10-track album releases. The first major project produced entirely by the band, there is an immense sense of freedom not only in the run time and the episodic release pattern but in the songs themselves. With its incredible ability to balance horror and romance, machinery and humanity, this is a diverse, innovative and well-considered collection of songs that, while asking a lot of listeners, rewards absolutely.

Andrea Cleary

Andrea Cleary is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture