Sunday, February 7, 2010

Album Review: Beach House - Teen Dream

Teen Dream
Beach House
Sub Pop, 2010

Paul's Rating: 8/10

Dreaminess is Beach House's specialty. So much so that they're one of those rare bands that has stamped its sound as patently its own. What's even rarer is for an artist to do so without being pigeon-holed in their own creation. Having achieved the former, the Baltimore duo venture into further explorations of their sound in their 3rd LP. This being a stage of awkward adolescence in any career, the title seems descriptive of the band itself. Especially for one that never bothered having a sophomore slump.

The album itself is more adult. Victoria Legrand sings, "Don't forget the nights when it all felt right / Are you not the same as you used to be?" If she's referring to teenage experience, it's a retrospective look.

It doesn't hurt to have such a firestorm of talent as singer/keyboardist Legrand at the helm, and under her lead, Beach House show they're willing to try new things. It's not effortless, but they prove they carry two traits that make (or, if absent, break) a career: Great artistic ambition, and the lack of a single gimmicky note in their songs.

Mostly, Beach House stick to what's worked so well for them thus far: Legrand's sultry, low alto voice. Gentle drum-machine beats. Crawling tempos. Layers of thick, droning keyboard work. Clean, reverb-heavy electric guitar arpeggios. Until now, they have exercised this sound with restraint, lending a folksy appeal to their very electronic sound.

Teen Dream, unlike 2007's Devotion, makes some risky moves into more complex, dramatic territory. Swelling crescendos and soaring synth-strings appear, augmented with live percussion. Some folk appeal is lost, but the execution is never indulgent. "10 Mile Stereo" is the highest-flying song. It's late in the album, a climax, not a showpiece.

That being said, part of the magic of Devotion was Legrand's ability to create tension and drama with the sublest inflection of her voice or a shift in chord progressions. Having heard that before, one might question whether it was necessary to tug any harder on the heartstrings.

Whatever criticism might be due, there are moments of brilliance that erase any notion of this being less than a great album. Legrand's gift for melody and composition blossoms, and while firmly in command, she melds with Alex Scally's guitar work better than ever. While containing tracks more accessible than Devotion's, even its less catchy songs are the kind that grow on you eventually, and in the end, they're the most rewarding.

For the vinyl aficionado, Teen Dream is a real treat. It's double heavy-duty discs in a gatefold jacket, and while the outside artwork is nothing eye-popping, the interior is beautifully designed. It includes a coupon for an MP3 download direct from Sub Pop, plus a DVD with music videos for most of the tracks.

No comments:

Post a Comment