Release Date: Jan 26, 2010
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Rock, Pop
Back in the mid to late Nineties, one of the most egregious insults reserved for a record was to suggest it was the kind of thing that’d go down well at a dinner party. In retrospect this was a rather strange criticism, partly because it seemed to frequently be hurled at relatively avant garde trip-hop types (typically by journalists extolling the virtues of The Verve), partly because it came with the inference that, by contrast, house parties were presumably all wonderful punk rock musical meccas. Fast forward some 15 years and it's fair to say we've changed.
Baltimore duo wakes up, shakes up Teen Dream sounds just like Beach House and not at all like Beach House. On their first two albums, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally created warm, lo-fi pop songs that favored subdued ambience over pronounced hooks, as if each song was designed to dissipate in the air between the speakers and your ears. By contrast, the duo’s new songs are less hazy and more forceful—they actually project.
As far as breakthrough moments go, singing the harmony parts on a Grizzly Bear track that was hot on the blogs for a few months and appearing on a derided soundtrack are pretty small-time. But the fact that Victoria Legrand sang on “Two Weeks” and that her band recorded a new joint for the New Moon soundtrack was what suddenly (and finally) broke Beach House to an audience beyond loyal blog readers and those with a curiosity about male-female musical duos. Of course, it helps that Teen Dream, Beach House's third album, is the best thing the band has done.
Beach House's sound was fully formed at the time of their 2006 debut. They had slow, shadowy dream-pop down; at times they recalled Mazzy Star or Galaxie 500, but songs like "Apple Orchard" and "Master of None" had a dark and blurry resonance all their own. Artists that start out so assured and distinctive can run into trouble on second, third, and fourth records.
There wasn't much room for Beach House to improve on Devotion, so instead, the duo improved the room in which they made Teen Dream. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally recorded their Sub Pop debut in a converted church with producer/engineer Chris Coady, who has also worked with TV on the Radio and Blonde Redhead. The same dark lushness echoes through this album as those bands' works, with a spaciousness that's more like a beach mansion than a mere house (and Teen Dream’s DVD of videos for each song adds to its lavishness).
The dense, gummy mist of sound that has settled over the indie landscape lately, burying everything like low-lying fog, has made appreciating new music less about spotting new sounds than plucking them from the muck. This spate of high-concept production, all jaded shoegaze fuzz and sludgy harmonics, can make for difficult listening, with more time needed to tell the wheat from the chaff. Beach House makes it easy on Teen Dream, supplying an intense but transparent sheen of iridescent sound, marking an album whose quality is almost instantly evident.
This Baltimore duo’s first two albums were intent on mastering one specific sound: spare, sleepy psychedelia. On their third LP, Teen Dream, they evolve at last, adding more variety behind Victoria Legrand’s wonderfully weary vocals. ? None of the changes are drastic, but together they’re just enough to cover Beach House’s once-monochrome canvases with washes of brilliant color.
They say that no other heartbreak compares with the frailty that is young love. It mainly has to do with the actuality that it consumes your heart and soul without warning. Beneath a towering desire for the unknown, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and confusion that only reveals itself with time and experience. With Teen Dream, it seems as if vocalist Victoria Legrand is kindly reassuring us that it’s okay to deal with a tormented heart.
“Norway,” the first single and third track off Beach House’s third album, Teen Dream, is the Baltimore dream-pop duo’s first truly mediocre composition. The “ooh”s that open the mid-tempo, MOR-lite drag sound Paula Cole-worthy, while the sepia-colored goth trappings of the chorus are reminiscent (in feeling, not in practice) to Death Cab for Cutie’s New Moon soundtrack contribution “Meet Me on the Equinox. ” Victoria Legrand wails over the proceedings less like Stevie Nicks and more like a joke about Stevie Nicks that Craig Finn would make, and everything surrounding her seems locked in its own landing gear.
Beach House exists within a popular kind of contemporary rock music that is defined by its inoffensiveness and lack of bombast. Last year, Grizzly Bear’s curious, intricately composed Veckatimest was probably the most visible album of this sort. While the unhurried surface of its songs could appear to some as boring or uninspired, the tasteful arrangements of Veckatimest were the product careful construction.
Gentle and dreamy, Beach House's Teen Dream will help the five-year-old collaboration between Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand achieve wider appeal. Whereas previous efforts embellished dark, distant slumber sounds, Teen Dream finds the duo maturing into friendly pop. Zebra and Used To Be effectively place lyrical peaks into the slow-tempo slurry of basic backbeats and electronic clouds.
With their third album, the Baltimore duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally throw themselves on the ever-growing pile of American bands going for the heartstrings via a kind of wide-eyed, epic psych-pop. What separates Beach House from Real Estate, Girls, the Antlers et al is, well, not much really, aside from a tendency toward some polite electronic interventions and a consistently slow-than-average pace. It's carefully, even beautifully arranged – all burnished shimmers and echo-drenched harmonies – but oddly icy and melodically a little ineffectual.
A beach house is usually a vacation spot, where people can get together and rejoice in the tranquil feeling of being able to enjoy a lush home located next to sound of waves. The soothing sounds of the waves gently crashing against each other, the calming feeling in knowing that there is not a care in the world and getting lost in the dream is a splendid fixation. They’ve always been able to create music to pair with this feeling of nostalgia but Beach House has somewhat, in a way, perfected their dream pop with Teen Dream, an album that flows like the beach and cascades with lush melodies, harmonies and fantastic gentleness.
They may just have minted the new decade’s first essential album. David Sheppard 2010 Beach House singer Victoria Legrand must be bored rigid with reviewers continually mentioning that her music sounds like the ethereal lovechild of gauzy indie forebears Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star. Granted, reiterating the platitude won’t help, but consider this a valediction; a way of drawing a line in the sand outside the Beach House of old, perhaps.
Beach House's previous two albums – 2006's self-titled debut and Devotion two years later – worked well as set-pieces, jumping between stoned love songs and mystic invocations, accented with warm wind chimes and other shore sounds. Those albums were the aural equivalent of Xanax, and it worked for the Baltimore duo, but on its Sub Pop debut, the dynamic shifts subtly. It still sounds like a Beach House album – Victoria Legrand's drowsy, rolling keys; Alex Scally's chiming guitar – but the druggy effect has worn off.