We Go, Go On Pretending
A common theme among the albums featured on Tastes & Tones is their ability to transform and distort one’s sense of reality, even if for a fleeting moment. Whether it be the new appreciation of beauty that What’s Going On inspires, or the sonic universe that A Deeper Understanding architects, albums are selected that form a cohesive and tangible experience that cannot be put into words, despite my best attempts.
While T&T looks to uncover these escapist artifacts across all genres and backgrounds, an obvious and untapped place to find this is in a genre designed to untangle one’s grasp on reality through the sheer massiveness of its music: dream pop.
Dream pop emerged in the late 80s, but at its roots it builds on from the stylings of Phil Spector and his patented “wall of sound” technique of the 1960s. This style, which got a second wind from Brian Wilson’s production with the Beach Boys, layered dense instrumentation on top of one another, causing listeners to lose track of specific instruments and harmonies and instead let the totality of the music wash over them. Prior to the digital era and its artificial mastering techniques, this involved huge ensembles of instruments, often doubling up the same parts for scale, playing in tight quarters with centralized microphones to pick up the entire sound as opposed to emphasizing individual instruments.
Decades later, the escapism embodied by the wall of sound found its way into dream pop (also known as shoegaze), with layered pop melodies swirling around the listener for full immersion in the music. Dream pop’s pinnacle was in the 90s with bands like Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star brought maturation and legitimacy to the genre, but no other band built on the sound and acted as the torch bearers to a new millennium like Beach House.
The Baltimore-based duo built a reputation in the mid 2000s with low-fi albums that punched above their minimal recording budgets, with their debut album coming to existence on a budget of $1,000 (Billboard). Their sound grew into their first masterpiece album, 2010’s Teen Dream, which saw the band refine their sound into their fullest album yet – filled with ambient guitars, steady builds, and lonely musings. But where Teen Dream focused inward to analyze the psyche of an individual, Bloom, as the title suggests, sprawls outward to a scale unlike any dream pop album before it.
Bloom is a sprawling black hole of an album, bringing everything into its world through its blissful and gentle gravity. The feelings the album evokes are accolades often only reserved for the beauty and mystery of the natural world. While the fundamentals are same from the previous three Beach House albums, Bloom feels like the realization of a vision and the pinnacle of a genre designed to both captivate in its realness and repel from any semblance of the world we’re living in.
Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce
Cheesecake takes on so many forms – rich and creamy New York cheesecake, yogurt and tart no-bake cheesecake, even airy and herbal Japanese cheesecake (featured on Kids See Ghosts). What we will be dining on tonight is an ancient dish of Italian descent: ricotta cheesecake.
As opposed to the typical cream cheese base, the decision to bake with ricotta (regularly found in Italian cuisine) as well as the semolina flour takes a different spin on the gushy dessert, instead leaving an earthier and sandier taste. This flavouring allows the purity of the ingredients to shine, in particular the zip of the lemon zest. The taste of sour of lemons often punches and retreats, yet backed with a fuller ricotta-backed flavour, it washes over the tongue in a refined way that allows it to last long enough to get familiar with tastebuds across the tongue.
To break the singularity of the lemon cheesecake, raspberry sauce is drizzled over top to bring a sweeter and more floral tartness to the dish. This understated sweetness is brought forward with the help of the icing sugar’s light dusting over the cake.
There is nothing to hide with the cake: its flavour is raw and vulnerable. Where the mystery comes in is through the ice wine. Vidal ice wine produces a brisk, mango lychee nectar that lingers in the shadows, never stealing the show from the dish and never attempting to. Instead, each sip opens up of a look into the lovely terroir that these frozen grapes were grown in, often picked in a single night of harvest when the temperature reaches a predefined sub-zero temperature.
This dish has incredible personality and immense depth to it, yet by appearance and first bite requires some time and focus to understand. Yet once truly immersed in it, it provides a simple and natural beauty unlike few desserts and wine pairings can.
Recipe: New York Times Cooking
Listening to albums on vinyl has a magical essence to it. Whether it is the crisp crackle of the needle on wax, the thoughtful sequencing of songs divided into two or four faces of the LP, or the secrets waiting to be discovered in the liner notes, listening to a vinyl record allows us to absorb albums through the eyes and ears of the artists. The creators now become the curators.
Beach House leaves us one last cheeky moment of deft album crafting: the album is recorded for 45 RPM as opposed to the standard 33 1/3 RPM (often called a “33”). For aspiring audiophiles who are unfamiliar with what this means, 45s or 7-inches are smaller records than the standard 33, commonly used for vinyl singles. This format of album is physically smaller and spins faster, requiring a different speed setting on the record player.
So when the cabasa strikes like a match to ignite the ethereal explosion of this album, the surprise of hearing Bloom unfurl at a mysterious slower pace completely changed the way I view Beach House’s music. The sound that arose was a lumbered but calculated expression of celestial heights, sprawling in immense and balanced magnitude. It was the chorus of the universe expanding and pushing outward at a remarkable speed, but so inconceivably big in scale it became impossible to fathom.
Why did Beach House begin their album with what amounts to a deft vinyl pressing miscalculation of an easter egg? Their music is not defined by a single range, a single collection of notes and melodies, but instead by the feeling and atmosphere it evokes. By altering the pace at which the music envelopes you, you open this album up to a wider array of emotions. Bloom at its intended pace (supposedly?) transports you high above the clouds, with a scale of the world akin to a neurologist examining nodes of the brain light up as thoughts pass through. Slowed down, you are examining the night sky from beneath the surface of a still lake, where the light of the stars become less definite and increasingly part of the shapeless watercolour of the world around us.
The absence of lucidity on Bloom gives way to sensations in spaces where language cannot go. It’s lush and seductive and ethereal presence plays out like a fleeting memory in reverse, but the harder you try and grab on to the memory, the more it dissolves back into the unexplainable recesses of our mind. Bloom gives us a temporary loss of reality, inviting us to a world not guided by our eyes but by our feelings. Where colour has been starved out from our childhood eyes by the stress and cruelty of our world, Bloom is the stimulant to reignite the emotional cravings of the body and soul.
That is where the dessert comes in. Sweet and tart, light but satisfying, each bite tingles the entire pallet and lingers for far longer than you may have expected. The tartness of the lemon and raspberry around the edges of your tongue swirls together with the syrupy profile of the dessert wine, both soft and delicate yet unwaveringly brazen. Some of life’s simplest flavours, timeless as the vines weaving along the bluffs along the Amalfi Coast, remind us yet again about the transformative awe of sensation. The celestial symbolism of the plating reflects a musical experience routed in the bounty from the earth and a feeling as big as the sky.
This experience is a reminder about the richness of the human memory and the depth of emotions that each of us have access to – some more readily than others. It provides awe in the darkest moments and accomplishes art’s modus operandi of transforming how you see the world.
If you built yourself a myth, you'd know just what to give
What comes after this, momentary bliss?
The consequence of what you do to me