Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Album Review: Beach House's "Teen Dream"

Since the release of their 2008 album, Devotion, the Baltimore-based duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, better known as Beach House, have been riding a wave of popularity that has shown virtually no signs of receding. While at the time of its release the album received generally good reviews, it was a mere ripple in the year defined by the respective releases of then up-and-coming Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend. It was not until the indie outlet Grizzly Bear took the band in as their own (dare I say, cub) that the ripple began to gain some momentum. The duo opened for a number of Grizzly Bear’s shows over the past year, with Legrand also offering backing vocals on their popular track “Two Weeks.” Continuing in this vein, Legrand collaborated with Grizzly Bear on “Slow Life” off of the New Moon soundtrack. As their popularity grew, so too did the expectations for their upcoming release Teen Dream, in stores this week as their first album off Sub Pop Records.

To say that the album is a disappointment would be absurd, but to call the album “this year’s Merriweather Post Pavillion”, as a number of music sources have, would be more so. If anything, the album will go down as the bands first release after one of the shortest spanning periods of musical puberty in recent memory. Teen Dream shows Beach House displaying infinitely more control over the fog of swirling organs and keyboards, muted guitar, and near-inaudible percussion which defined Devotion. Influences on Legrand’s singing style have clearly shifted, making any comparison drawn between Warhol Superstar Nico a thing of the past, likely to be replaced by comparisons to mid 70’s Stevie Nicks. While the ethereal fluctuations of Legrand’s voice were at times lost in the haze of Devotion, on Teen Dream Legrand is very much the driving force of the album. With the music consistently following one step behind, the listener is able to trust the singer as she gently pulls them by the hand into a world which she alone has discovered.

Recorded in a converted church in upstate New York appropriately named Dreamland, this is a place any person who has ever experienced otherworldly fantasies will feel oddly familiar with. The guitar riff which introduces the opening track “Zebra” welcomes the listener into this Teen Dream, simultaneously preparing he or she to be thrust into the sparkling, confusing “Silver Soul”. From there, a lonely groan of an organ carries into the albums third and arguably most memorable track, “Norway”. Other notable stops include “Walk in the Park”, whose Vampire Weekend undertones are hard to ignore, and the track “Used to Be”, which best showcases Grizzly Bear’s chamber pop influences on the band. A highlight in the latter half of the album, “10 Mile Stereo”, flirts with shoegaze, yet never abandons Beach House’s signature sound.
Yet, it is their adhering to this signature sound that will turn many off to this album. While the music of Beach House is undoubtedly breathtaking, all too often this type of music is called out for “all sounding the same”, and in some ways that claim is warranted in this case. One can only live in a soothing, dazzling, dreamlike state for so long—we eventually have to wake up. But as with any good dream, one snaps back into consciousness wishing only to have the chance to return to whatever world their mind had created. Teen Dream is no different, creating an opportunity for listeners to not only appreciate the maturing of an up and coming band but also enter into a stunning sonic landscape which (as with any album worth listening to) will grow on you if given enough time. Legrand reiterates this on albums closing track “Take Care” when she sings “It's no good unless it grows”, just as she releases the listener back into the world of conscious thought.
Buy Teen Dream here, and check out the band playing "Zebra" on Fallon below.

Listen: Beach House - Zebra

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