Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Beach House – Teen Dream

brandon | November 20, 2009 - 9:56 am

When we meditated on Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s gorgeous sophomore album Devotion we had the following to say:

[Y]ou can’t fall back on Mazzy Star or Galaxie 500 references because they’ve pushed themselves into their own, unique solar system. Victoria’s voice and woozy after-hours organ tones are more assured, Alex has lost the beard but gained more inventive, atmospheric guitar lines. For just one instance, listen to “You Came To Me,” the way each part of it builds. We don’t think they could’ve wrote that song a year ago. Throughout Devotion, they’ve pushed their template in all the right directions. They haven’t changed … it’s more that they’ve deepened.

Here we are, not quite a year later, and they’ve gone even deeper. As a commenter noted when we posted “Norway,” this is one lush Teen Dream: They’ve upped the ante enough to be, basically, a different band than we first saw at the Cake Shop during CMJ ’06. They’ve made great use of time.

From start to finish Teen Dream floats with the hazy internal logic of its namesake. The pale yellow album art earns its stripes via opener “Zebra,” a song that opens it all up with a delicate guitar line before some cooing harmonies and then thumping percussion, spare organ. The arrangement is lovely, but it’s the assuredness in Legrand’s voice that pushes this thing elsewhere. Then again, so dose the weird gurgling chirps beneath more soulful harmonies and a slippery slow-mo distorted guitar at the beginning of “Silver Soul.” The soporific drums. It’s in the details. And there are tons. You’ve heard the aforementioned “Norway,” the track that follows “Silver Soul.” You might not have heard the rest yet (outside of sing-songing previous 7″ lullaby “Used To Be“), but much of it will be instantly familiar, but fathomless and mysterious at the same time.

The duo recorded the collection in a converted church called Dreamland in upstate New York with Chris Coady (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead). It unfurls with a naturalness that makes it sound like it was captured straight to a (a very high-quality) boombox. Nothing’s cluttered. Each sound has its space. Layers bring warmth to a simple drum machine. The steady pulse of an organ paired next to an icy tambourine. Quick guitar picking next to slow, steady percussion. It would be easy enough to rely on Legrand, but the backing tracks show just as much feeling.

We like all the tracks, but especially love the moment “10 Mile Stereo” takes off and drives into the horizon at the 1:30 mark. The slow, smeary pace of “Silver Soul.” The tender closing-time feel (complete with a moment of rattling background noises) of “Real Love.” Or when actual closer “Take Care” goes into a three minute fade-out, Victoria repeating that she’ll “take care of you / that’s true” enough times for even the most pessimistic to believe it. It’s a gorgeous, reassuring way to end the album — and something that could go on for another 10 minutes without getting boring. Instead, it just seems to up the high. Bands like Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, and Grizzly Bear have all released ambitious records this year. Beach House come at this sort of complexity from a different angle. At first listen the songs feel like simple lullabies. There isn’t a shiny facade, really. It’s only after you take your time with it and let the songs sink in that you realize you’ll likely never see the bottom.

Teen Dream is out 1/26 via Sub Pop. For those of you into visuals, the album will be packaged with a DVD that features a video for each of the 11 tracks, all by a different director.

Tags: Beach House
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