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Beach House

Teen Dream

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Sub Pop

Teen Dream, Baltimore duo Beach House’s third album, is their first for Sub Pop; this label upgrade seems to reflect both a willingness to court a larger audience (they recently played Jimmy Fallon) and also, subtle shifts in their music. Many bands take a few albums to find themselves, but French-born Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally found their niche right away and, with few variations, comfortably set up camp. Anchored by Legrand’s warm, velvety voice, they have crafted an exquisite late night soundtrack. Slow, languorous and a little druggy, their songs really demand to be heard after dark, a quality that leads them to be tagged dream pop or slowcore. There are echoes of such stalwarts of slow, pretty music as late Velvet Underground, Galaxie 500, Mazzy Star and Low, but Beach House never sound derivative. The common objection is that they’re, well, boring, which seems to miss the point a little. They’re not making dance music or anything.

Teen Dream will be pleasantly familiar to fans of their first two albums, but it also offers some subtle changes. Recorded in a converted New York church by Chris Coady (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), the album has an appropriately hymnal quality at times, one that builds on Devotion’s lullabies for the indie set. With its swoony, gauzy vocals, narcoleptic tempo and twinkling keyboard, “Lover of Mine” is the most similar to their previous songs. However, the two standout songs, “Zebra” and “Used to Be” are, not coincidentally, the most robust and rhythmically strong. They don’t exactly rock- they sway. Yet they don’t lose the band’s best qualities, but rather push them to the front, namely Legrand’s voice, which is less ethereal and hazy. Scally’s fluid, chiming guitar work is also more pronounced throughout, especially on “Norway,” where he makes it sound slightly woozy, like a drunk continually stumbling and righting himself.

Perhaps the advantage of having a recognizable, consistent sound is that these small changes make a big difference; the production is cleaner and tighter, Legrand’s vocals more grounded and usually effects-free and there are more live drums. Legrand spoke about the album having a “different level of intimacy, physicality,” which it does. Unlike their previous albums, which drew the listener in, this one ventures out a little more. “Used to Be” is possibly the most dynamic, immediate song they’ve recorded, opening with an elegant, but insistent piano and moving at a pace that is dramatic and sweeping. “10 Mile Stereo” is also more upbeat and its romantic, nocturnal atmosphere, crashing cymbals and echoey guitars recall former tourmates the Walkmen, albeit with more sedate vocals. They don’t skimp on the lovely, drowsy songs either, like album closer, “Take Care,” which offers the comforting line “I’ll take care of you/ If you want me to.”

Its apt title conjures up images of John Hughes teens pursuing love and angst to its heart-on-sleeve songs. Appropriately, Legrand appeared with Grizzly Bear on the New Moon soundtrack last year. With the success of bands like their friends Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend, there’s clearly a shift in indie towards more textured, lush and vocally rich music. Teen Dream makes Beach House three for three and they should, deservedly, expand their fan base as they continue to expand their music.

by Lukas Sherman
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