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Album Review: Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)

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MP3: Beach House – Norway

Sometime around 2006 or 2007, during my first of two senior years in college, I decided to make a long-overdue effort to actually engage in my hometown music scene. All that really means is I jumped on MySpace and did a search for “Baltimore” under the music section. Not particularly effective or engaging, I realize now. Regardless, I did eventually find my way to Beach House, and they were one of the acts that resonated almost immediately, and one of the few that remained with me.

The rich, musical dreamscapes of Victoria Legrand’s organs and keyboards, paired with Alex Scally’s hazy, minimalist surf guitar often felt tranquil and soothing, like a lazy spring afternoon spent on the hammock. Legrand’s vocals ranged from a sometimes eerie drone to a sultry croon, but they always entranced and served as an alluring guide through the hazy reverb. Manufactured drum beats served merely as rhythmic suggestions as the songs plodded along an independent, languorous pace. At their best, Beach House created bare-bones dream pop that embraced the beauty of small moments– the isolated picking of a guitar, the woozy bellow of an organ, the way Legrand inflects a phrase.

In many respects, that version of Beach House is gone on Teen Dream, the group’s third album and first with indie powerhouse Sub Pop. The addition of live percussion has tethered the 10 tracks on this release to a more traditional strong structure, reining in the beautiful meandering quality that characterized their first two albums. In essence, a lot of what made the duo so appealing initially has been whittled down, tightened or refined. The results, however, are still unmistakably Beach House. It would seem these new confinements suit Legrand and Scally well, crafting moments on Teen Dream that are undoubtedly as breathtaking and otherworldly as anything else they have put forth.

Adding a more traditional backing rhythm has upped the tempo and given the songs a sense of direction and pace that is altogether new for the duo. Legrand has fully unleashed the power of her vocals on every track, and pushes toward the higher notes with far more frequency. Scally’s guitar work, in keeping with the timing, is sped up but no less ethereal.

Right out of the gate on “Zebra” the band shows its hand, using gliding guitars and gentle harmonies to step out of the shadows of their past sound. Legrand comes in on the first verse, backed by a steady drumbeat, with more immediacy, more drive, showing just how they plan to flesh out their evolved aesthetic. The drumming picks up, serving as a guide to nudge the song from point A to point B. But the cymbal crashes that accentuate the second half of the song also serve as stylistic flourishes. Once again, Beach House has created perfect pop, it is just now slightly more traditional.

“Silver Soul” adopts a similar skeletal framework, but subs in layered guitars and sustained organ notes to create a sort of dreary ambiance. But it is the vocals that set it apart: Legrand puts her full talents on display, delivering a soulful performance that shows her reaching almost every part of her range with complete and utter control. Hearing her approach falsetto is truly one of those moments that is just heartbreakingly gorgeous.

With the shimmering guitars and towering chorus on “Norway,” the melodic tale of heartbreak in “Walk In The Park,” the playful piano track “Used to Be” and the 80′s flashback “Lover Of Mine,” the album’s first half is one of the most satisfying stretches of music in the band’s catalogue.

Still, it’s hard to go so far as to rank this album against the others and boldly declare it the band’s best. Comparing Teen Dream to Devotion or Beach House does a disservice to where the band has been, and the steps they have taken toward pop conventions. But the polished nature of the music certainly makes it feel like it is their most complete work, one that flows better and holds up as a more definitive artistic statement.

I’d be lying if I said that seeing the old Beach House–that captivated me in college–stick one foot out the proverbial door wasn’t somewhat disappointing. But Teen Dream has given me all new reasons to love this band, reasons I couldn’t have imagined possible before.

Label: Sub Pop

Release date: January 26, 2010

Track list:

  1. Zebra
  2. Silver Soul
  3. Norway
  4. Walk In The Park
  5. Used To Be
  6. Lover Of Mine
  7. Better Times
  8. 10 Mile Stereo
  9. Real Love
  10. Take Care

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)”

  1. “The addition of live percussion has tethered the 10 tracks on this release to a more traditional strong structure, reining in the beautiful meandering quality that characterized their first two albums. ”

    couldn’t agree more. i really wish that Beach House would show up with an instrumental track or two–i think it could be profoundly beautiful.

  2. Greg Szeto says:

    I gotta say, I am enjoying their new material quite a bit. I think it stands well on its own, and in comparison to their previous stuff. Particularly live, I think the combination of old and new material makes for a more dynamic set.

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