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out January 26th
I remember the first time I heard about Beach House – a glowing review of the duo’s sophomore album on some small no-name music website called Pitchfork. I had missed the band’s debut for whatever reason, and reading about Devotion made me wonder if I had made a grave mistake. Both albums were praised: Beach House was a “balance of beauty and imprecision,” while Devotion had “crisper, brighter, bolder songs, retaining Beach House’s sense of elegant decay while sweeping up the debris.” I went into both albums with high hopes.
I was disappointed. The albums were good, sure, but they didn’t have anything that – to my ears – set them apart. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mindset to truly appreciate Devotion’s beautiful imprecision, but the album seemed pretty standard to me – hazy, slow, dreary. Perhaps I was impatient, but where some saw elegance, I felt boredom.
So it was with reservations that I listened to Grizzly Bear frontman Ed Droste rave (via his now-defunct Twitter) about Beach House’s third effort, Teen Dream, months before its release. "Teen Dream is already making me wish it was released in the 2000's so I could put it in the top of my decade's favorite albums,” he said. “It just honestly makes me so excited about music and the state of music. It's that much of a step forward,” he said. “Beach House's Teen Dream is insanely perfectly gorgeous amazingness,” he said.
Again with the promises of beauty and elevation. Again with the potential for disappointment. I was scared, I’ll admit it. Even after finally getting the album, I waited days before listening to it, preparing myself for the eventual letdown. It sat and sat, waiting for that first spin. And then, I finally put needle to wax and started listening.
It. Is. Gorgeous.
Beach House is often described as Dream Pop, a vague genre that seems to insinuate a hazy departure from reality. With Beach House’s first two albums, I failed to see the connection – “dream pop” seemed like a lazy way for music critics to communicate blurry instrumentation and repetitive song structures. Listening to Teen Dream, however, I can find no term that is more descriptive – where Devotion was sleepy, Teen Dream is, well, dreamy.
Usually when I think of dreamy music, I think of unidentifiable lyrics, a la Sigur Ros. Or at least lyrics that are so fuzzed out or garbled as to defy comprehension. On Teen Dream, Beach House has taken a turn in the opposite direction – Victoria Legrand’s vocals are more present than ever, ringing out clearly over the top of the lushest instrumentation Beach House has employed to date. The album is rich, and Legrand has the pipes to match. Her voice is so strong, in fact, that it has lost much of its femininity. Hers is a textured androgyny, voice so beautifully oaky and deep that it assumes a (dare I say it) dreamlike feel.
Praise from Ed Droste aside, it’s hard not to hear the Grizzly Bear parallels on Teen Dream. The album, like Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, is poignantly pretty. Moments of pristine clarity are juxtaposed with reverberating bliss. Pianos and organs abound, and, like Grizzly Bear in 2009, Beach House looks poised to turn some heads in 2010. Birds of a feather flock together. Still, I feel like I need to temper Droste’s enthusiasm with a touch of reality – sorry to bring this dream back down to Earth, but he’s perhaps a touch hyperbolic. Teen Dream is not a massive step forward in “the state of music.” It wouldn’t make my top albums of last decade, even if it had been released two years ago.
But that should not be seen as a knock against the album – merely a readjustment of expectations. Teen Dream is made of the most accessible and impressive songs Beach House has recorded; lead single “Norway” and previously released “Used to Be” are notable standouts, but all of the songs maintain a baseline of accessibility that hasn’t been present in previous efforts. The tunes are quicker, without seeming rushed. They are thicker without sounding overproduced. They are poppier without sacrificing lyrical depth. It is, without a doubt, Beach House’s best work, and deserves to be recognized as such.
“We belong by the stream to the dawn,” sings Legrand on “Real Love,” the album’s penultimate track. That’s exactly where Teen Dream takes you – deep in a dream, floating pleasantly toward daybreak.
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