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Beach House – Teen Dream

February 1, 2010

Teen Dream

Is it possible that Beach House started all of this beach-combing nostalgia? Granted, the “Beach-Pop” scene is still a new, developing niche, but it feels like Beach House have been around forever, spinning tales of love and loss as waves erode the shore. In actuality, it has been less than five years and only three albums, but now and more than ever it is apparent that the Baltimore duo have staying power. The band’s new album Teen Dream was released last week to booming critical reception, and this is a rare time when you’ll hear me tell you to believe the hype and give the album a shot regardless of your opinions on prior Beach House releases; it is a clutch release that sets out to prove a lot and does so with flying colors. If there has ever been a time to believe that the genre of seaside dreampop drawn into the sand by the likes of jj, Real Estate, Delorean, recent Grizzly Bear, and Beach House could really lift off, that time is now, with Beach House quickly gaining altitude as one of indie pop’s most beloved bands.

One of the most convincing, immediate factors of Beach House’s new maelstrom of critical praise is vocalist Victoria Legrand’s delivery, which only becomes more and more convincing with each release. First single choice “Norway” expands upon the one-word-chorus heroics of “Gila” off of 2008’s Devotion. It’s hard to imagine Legrand wringing any more emotion out of two syllables, snaking vowel sounds through complex melodies with greatly varying textures. At some moments she sounds like an orator and at others a crying child. Similarly showstopping is the second to last song, “Real Love,” which comes in the middle of one of the greatest one-two-three punch knockout endings in recent recollection. Over the sound of someone searching through antiques in the basement, Legrand sings “I met you somewhere in a hell beneath the stairs/There’s someone in that room that frightens you when they go boom/boom, boom, boom…” Once again, just listen to Legrand’s repetition of that single syllable, bringing both her and us nearly to tears before she lifts us up with the gorgeous closer “Take Care,” with the album’s most timeless lyrics: “I’ll take care of you, take care of you, that’s true.” The song sounds ancient, even though it is an early highlight of the new year.

But “Used to Be” is actually, as far as I know, the oldest track on the album, having been released as its own single way back in 2008, and its progress represents Beach House’s growth since Devotion. In single form, it felt like a slight departure from Devotion but with a very similar sound. It was possibly the most melancholy song we’d heard from the band yet, and it had an awful lot of competition. Legrand wistfully inquires “Are you coming home?/Are you still alone?/Are you not the same as you used to be?” like she really doesn’t know the answers, and the track features electric guitars that cut like knives from the other half of the group, multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally. It fizzles out, unresolved, after a lengthy, painful outro (“Even if we tried so hard, would we still be coming to an end?”) and some whispered, nearly unintelligible mutterings. The original single take of “Used to Be” is a rarity, presenting heartbreak in equal parts of delicate consideration and ugly dejection. At this point it seemed like Beach House were at the height of their powers, just about at the fringes of being able to make their audience, with great certainty, cry their eyes out, just because it felt so damn real.

With that said, what Beach House have done with the new version of “Used to Be” is less of a step forward and more of a step upward. Despite argument to the contrary, Beach House didn’t come to the table with a fully formed sound. One refined into its lowest common denominator, sure, we can agree on that, but as 2008’s Devotion and now 2010’s Teen Dream have proved, Beach House have had a long way to go since they started so many years ago, a long way until they could have made a song like the final cut of “Used to Be.” At about 1:15 of the new version, the swooning, dreamy passion that the old version flirted with is taken all the way by a slightly changed chorus, a wash of cymbals and a thick kick drum. All of a sudden, the song is bursting with life and energy; it even sounds like Legrand can barely catch her breath. Although the new version is about the same BPM as the original, it sounds infinitely more vivacious. The transformation is completed with new outro lyrics: “Coming home, any day now…” It’s easy to think, “Ah! So THAT’S how it’s supposed to sound” at this point.

The entire album is filled with moments like this, where Beach House’s stylistic advances really shine and it becomes apparent how hard they have worked and far they have come. The self-harmonized vocals on “Zebra” breath life into an already shimmering melody that cleverly starts the album off on an ending note. “10 Mile Stereo,” the first song in the aforementioned power trio, takes the band’s tempo to the highest its ever been and its guitar tones even higher, nearly reaching shoegaze levels of reverberation, and throws in an incredible ending cymbal solo. “Silver Soul” is most haunting use of the words “it is happening again” that I have heard since “Blue Sky Revisit.” At this time, I should probably point out that while Teen Dream is a gorgeous album, it also has its dark moments, like their previous albums. My cousin, who is usually into industrial thrash, found “Astronaut” from Devotion a compelling listen. He’d probably find Teen Dream to be more than haunting; it glazes over none of its ugly or painful moments whatsoever. It presents its love and pain in equal esteem, creating a full, balanced, bittersweet end product.

Teen Dream is a tremendous, momentous album, but what is more amazing is that it is easy to see it gaining even more momentum as time goes on. It already sounds like finely aged wine, Legrand and Scally having developed an unmistakable style that they have carried a very long way and have taken to new and exciting places on Teen Dream. When Devotion came out, it made the band’s 2006 self-titled debut sound ancient, and “Aburn and Ivory” still calls out like a dynamic ’60s dirge ala Jefferson Airplane. Teen Dream does much the same thing for Devotion, making the likes of “You Came to Me” and “Home Again” sound like established standards of this new thing I called “Beach-Pop.” We can be rest assured that Teen Dream, as Beach House’s finest album to date, will enter that same realm, and soon enough it will be the kind of album we can rest our heads against and sing along with while drifting into a deep sleep.

Also, check out the band’s new Daytrotter Session.

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One comment

  1. Fantastic post, you really defined what Teen Dream is from it’s dreamy, infectious core.

    It seems these past few months, I’ve developed a bit of a crush on Legrand too…



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