Posts Tagged ‘Dreampop’

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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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Asobi Seksu – Hush

March 23, 2009
Asobi Seksu - Hush

Asobi Seksu - Hush

Asobi Seksu are a band that has claimed many adjectives. Their self-titled debut was, in a word, charming. It’s 2006 follow-up, Citrus, was, in another word, breathtaking (and I believe an easy pick for best album of 2006). Most bands would be happy to have just those words, but this band has garnered many more: “electric,” “judicious,” “succulent” and “charismatic,” among many others. How many more positive things can one say about a band? It seems to make sense, then, that not as many wonderful things are being said about the band’s new album, Hush. After all, where do you go once you get to the top of the mountain, like Asobi Seksu did with Citrus?

In retrospect, two options seem obvious. Both involve a step downward in quality, because there was no way they were going to trump Citrus, no matter what. Option one involves doing more of the same glittery shoegaze that we love, and getting blasted for not doing anything different. Option two involves dressing down their sound to something more subdued, and that is exactly what core members Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna do on Hush.

What this does is test their songwriting ability by leaving it to be the main attraction of the album. The tunes here are, instead of empowered and youthful like on Citrus, serious and contemplative. Also, the band switch from big room-filling My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze to more elegant Cocteau Twins-esque dreampop. The appearance of Chikudate on the cover might match this sound, as it did on the previous albums. More often than not, this new sound works, and we once again get the feeling that these musicians really are quite talented. Some songs, namely “Layers” and “Transparence,” find the band playing more charmingly simple music that works because they know how to match their new icy dreampop sound with simple melodies.

Without their sonic dress-up, Chikudate’s lyrics now reveal themselves as actually being a lot like Hannah’s. When he sang on songs like “Pink Cloud Tracing Paper” on Citrus, Hannah sounded shy, but that sort of shy vocal style that we find kind of cute. We got a taste of that from Chikudate too, but on Hush just about all of the vocals are like this, restrained. We want them to be brave and shout out, but they never seem to. In terms of instrumentation, they make similar conscious refrains. We do get hints of the reverb that we have heard from them in the past, but sometimes we can barely even hear any guitar (“Gliss”). The end product is ultimately very reserved, and we get the feeling that if we accompanied these songs with the self-assured sonic hugeness that the band had claimed previously, we’d get a lot more truly memorable songs.

And in fact, they do this exactly once, on the album’s first single, “Me & Mary.” The song sounds like a Citrus outtake, and it proves that their songwriting ability is still outwardly excellent if it is presented with this vitality. The rest of the album screams out to be fully expressed like “Me & Mary,” particularly on songs like “Familiar Light,” “Gliss,” and “Glacially.” It’s as if they are giving us a taste of what they could really accomplish should they decide to re-introduce the muscular production they once used, but its conscious shedding takes away something really important. The “Exotic Animal Paradise” we heard on Citrus may still be here, but it is deliberately obscured to the point where it is barely cognizable.

The most interesting thing about Hush is that it wears its sound and potential weaknesses on its sleeves. This could be seen as very empowering. We don’t have to search for an all-encompassing adjective here. It is provided for us. “Hush” was the logical next step, but there was more than one option. A very telling fact springs from the title of the album’s only instrumental interlude, “Risky and Pretty.” Asobi Seksu are good at being pretty, and they don’t have to be risky to be successful. The self titled album and Citrus were both accessible, loveable albums, and this one had the potential to be as much. The decision to make a sound change wasn’t necessarily a damning idea, but the risk they decided to take feels more like a calculated business decision. “Risky” would have been to not be afraid to stick with what works. But it should be said that Asobi Seksu make the sound switch fairly intelligently despite its inherent shortcomings, and they also still know how to write catchy tunes. So Hush will please fans, but it isn’t anywhere near the quality of its predecessors. But even if it was a complete disaster, I would have still bought tickets to see Asobi Seksu on March 28th. I haven’t given up on this band’s capability to make excellent albums. They are two for three, after all, so they have earned the benefit of the doubt as well as my encouragement as a fan to try whatever kind of sound they please.

Asobi Seksu

Asobi Seksu

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10. Chairlift – Does You Inspire You

December 11, 2008

For the past month or two I have had close to no motivation whatsoever to write on this blog. I can’t really explain why, because I don’t know myself. The transition to college was probably jarring enough to do something in that department, and I have been very busy lately studying for finals. But within the past couple weeks my motivation to write has at least somewhat returned, and bears fruits in the departments of this blog as well as outside creative writing which has not seen the light of day yet. I’ve considering posting some of the creative works here, namely an elegy to a certain someone who died just outside of Paula Abdul’s house as well as a personal account of insanity from an individual due to being locked in a Gushers storage basement of a General Mills factory, but I have decided to not post either of them here, at least temporarily, for various reasons. They might end up here eventually. It depends. I’ve also been working on a top ten favorite albums of the year list, which I planned to post early next year, but I have decided to start posting the albums individually now because I don’t feel like waiting to post them, and I feel like my goals are contrasting enough on each individual review to merit doing them seperately. Also, I don’t feel like creating a hierarchy for them, although there is a certain #1 pick. I am going to start posting them here periodically within the next couple weeks.

-ATB

Chairlift - Does You Inspire You

I saw Yeasayer live in the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in December and Chairlift opened. I would have payed the sixteen dollar admission just to see Chairlift for the twenty five minutes they played. Granted, Yeasayer’s set was worth at least a Benjamin, but there was something to be said for an opening band that really delivers the goods like that. I believe they brought the woman next to us to tears. I don’t know if they are THAT great, but they are a charming band with a lot of potential nonetheless. The first opening act was the rather dreadful Fang Island, which aimed to impress with dynamics, speed, and volume, and pretty much failed in all three respects. Chairlift seemed to utilize these three qualities with ease without feeling the need to conquer so much as befriend them. What particularly impressed me about their set was the ability to build something out of nothing. A prime example of this was their opening number Territory, which pulsed with bass blasts before spawning multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly’s percussion, to be later accompanied by guitarist Aaron Pfenning’s space age guitar melody and vocalist Caroline Polachek’s airy lyrics. The slow progression was glazed by vintage organs and punctuated by a kickin’ cowbell solo, both from the vivacious Polachek. Interestingly enough, everyone on the stage seemed to draw the eye equally. While Polachek was either gesticulating wildly or delicately pointing her nose up at the giant Star of David on the wall behind, Wimberly was completely focused behind the drum kit, and Pfenning (oh, the hip scarf!) smiled as he occasionally chimed in with his melodic guitar sensibility. But despite all the good things I have to say about their live show, it is secondary to their songwriting. On their debut album, Does You Inspire You, Chairlift prove themselves to be much more than a one trick pony, that trick being their sleeper hit Bruises which gained popularity from being featured on an iPod Nano commercial. With that said, Bruises is one hell of a song, and perfectly represents the tiny, cute nature of the iPod Nano. “I tried to do handstands for you but every time I fell for you / I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you.” How is that not utterly charming? What is surprising is that Bruises does not overshadow everything else on the album, which is loaded with really good songs and is not lopsided. Particularly good are the 80s disco-funk song Planet Health and the Yo La Tengo esque Somewhere Around Here. But Does You Inspire You covers many bases quite effectively: pop, soul, funk, electronic, dream pop, blues, country, and R&B to start the list. This eclecticism makes the album one of the most consistently interesting of the year, but they keep their curious personal charm throughout the genre hopping. Either Chairlift know exactly what they are doing or have no idea whatsoever, but in any case they seem to know exactly how to do it.

Chairlift

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Three Cocteau Twins Reviews

December 28, 2007

Sunburst And Snowblind

A great little EP to accompany one of my favorite Twins’ albums, Head Over Heels. The version of Sugar Hiccup here is superior, and makes the original version obsolete. From The Flagstones and Hitherto are wonderful songs, arguably better than some songs on Head Over Heels, but Because of Whirl-Jack isn’t as good, although a nice inclusion. I am pretty sure this rounds off the released material from the Head Over Heels sessions. There is no reason not to get this one. It only enhances the album which it accompanies, which was already nearly perfect.

The Spangle Maker

One of the most overrated Cocteau Twins releases. People often cite Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops as a turning point in quality for the band, but I personally find it trite and annoying, and one of Fraser’s most contrived vocal performances. The Spangle Maker is a frequent fan favorite, but the tune is tired and uninspired. Fraser’s vocals once again take a fall, only spending a tiny amount of the nearly five minute song delivering characteristically excellent vocals, the rest of which is some of the least melodic of her repertoire. Pepper-Tree is the saving grace. It is quite nice. However, in general, this three song EP is pretty weak. It seems to spark something for other people, but it was only worth it to me for the sake of completion.

BBC Sessions

This two disk set of BBC recordings of Cocteau Twins are useless and peripheral upon first glance, but closer listening opens up their purposes. One initial strikeout is how lopsided the collection is in respect to the breadth of their career. The lions share of these recordings are of songs from the Garlands and Head Over Heels eras, while the bands most popular periods, of Treasure and Blue Bell Knoll are given little and no attention respectively.

The reasoning for this becomes clear to fans upon closer inspection. The truth is, the Garlands era songs are generally exceptional but poorly produced and hampered by Fraser’s then unhoned vocals. Coming back to these tracks with an updated knowledge of production and better instrumental skill does the band good, and most of these songs deserve their facelifts. The collection is led of with Wax And Wane, and with a faster tempo and more clearly produced haunting instrumentals, feels utterly complete. A few songs that were once negligible are now standouts, namely Feathers-Oars-Blades, Strange Fruit, and My Hue And Cry. And the songs that were already fantastic are also given quality, often times unique deliveries. The wonder of the re-recording of Blind Dumb Deaf is just one the many surprises to be found here. In the said track, the steady drum machine fires off cold beats quickly int the void as the bass plays a hypnotic rolling as if on a wooden ship under the dancing storm that is Guthrie’s satanic guitars. Fraser sings in the middle of all this, unphased, as if some untouchable angel.

It doesn’t sound very likely, but these versions do bring out the best of their songs, and they reveal that even in their primal, incomplete stage, the Cocteau Twins were one hell of a band. Also particularly nice are the new versions of Hazel and Hitherto. The former is the Twins’ most relentless gothic assault and arguably their heaviest song, and Hitherto is a beautiful, tragic number that can be likened to Musette And Drums.

This collection is by no means perfect, and on the second disk, the quality takes a nosedive with the Treasure era tracks and continuing through the Twins’ Capitol albums Four Calendar Cafe and Milk And Kisses. Everything past Beatrix is flat out mediocre, save a very beautiful cut of Otterley. The bands most popular album, Heaven or Las Vegas, is only given one song, and Victorialand and Blue Bell Knoll are completely ignored. However, the majority of the first disk and a good chunk of the second are filled with revised versions of some of the Twins’ most perplexing tunes that are revised and touched up to as perfect as they will ever be. This is not an essential Cocteau Twins release, but considering the state of the Cocteau Twins fanbase (that is, only rabid), there are many goodies to be found here, especially in respect to Garlands and Head Over Heels.