Monday, January 25, 2010

Beach House-Teen Dreams

Photo by Bek Andersen for Epilogue

After finishing recording in an Upstate New York studio, Beach House announced the release of their third full-length album Teen Dreams for early 2010. The buzz was so immense you would have thought Teen Dreams would be included in most critic’s “Top 10 Albums of 2009”. I experienced this thrill first hand during a Grizzly Bear/Beach House show that left me probing YouTube for an unknown new song they performed that I was unable to hear the name of due to crowd noise. Using expert search engine techniques, I located the performance and watched “Walk in the Park” over and over, proceeding to post it all over my social networking pages exclaiming my anticipation. It was fall of 2009, but I had my first taste of excitement for the upcoming music landscape in 2010.

Beach House, made up of lead singer/organist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, are Baltimore natives and have been working and recording together for the past five years. The result is a trademark sound of sleepy rhythms, vintage keyboard melodies, sliding guitar, and Victoria’s unmistakable leisurely and heavy vocals. They have managed to expand and develop their trademark sound with each release, and nowhere is this more evident than Teen Dreams.

Familiar aspects from Devotion are noticed upon first listen, but with an attentive ear it is easy to detect a change in direction. The sounds are warmer and brighter; the haunting melodies are substituted for more friendly refrains. There is more spirit and color in the textures, which in previous releases sometimes found themselves washed out underneath a more melancholic, dreary sound. Victoria’s vocals are more upbeat and have a warmer tone while remaining unique and spellbinding. While sonically Beach House has developed a more accessible sound, a closer look into the lyrics reveals mysterious and somber topics more akin to Devotion. However, without a glance at the album booklet, one might have a hard time noticing these themes. The liveliness of their arrangements manages to mask some of the glum subject matter.

“Silver Soul” weaves in and out between sliding guitar riffs and an underlying organ. More importantly, this is where the listeners will notice a change in Legrand’s voice. The lyrics are sung with greater emphasis and contain a more dynamic tone, which were less present in previous albums. Her vocal range is expanded as well; with mixtures of tenor and teetering falsetto during the repeated chorus “It is happening again”. Backing vocals and Legrand’s pronounced groans bring the dense-layered track to a satisfying end.

Tracks such as “Norway” and “Used to Be” also accentuate Teen Dreams switch to more shimmering melodies and glowing vocals. The first single “Norway” is by far the closest thing to a pop song Beach House has created to date. Breathy soprano voices and woozy guitar in the intro set up a swift chorus most Beach House listeners might not be used to. “Used to Be” uses a bright and compact keyboard melody accompanied by a galloping percussion for Legrand to express emotions on the subject of growing apart.

Beach House still embraces aspects of their trademark sound throughout the album, but overall, Teen Dreams is a more blissful, fun and approachable album, without sacrificing ambition or talent.

MP3 "Norway" (via Sub Pop)

Chad Evenson