Critical Voices: Beach House, Teen Dreams

February 4, 2010

Following the release of Beach House’s second album, Devotion, in 2006, lead singer Victoria Legrand retreated from her front woman spotlight. After singing backup and collaborating with Grizzly Bear, she’s back with a vengeance on Teen Dream, Beach House’s latest LP. Her stunning, deeply evocative voice has been revamped with a new hint of hickory, like she’s been smoking a pack a day in the Adirondacks since 2006’s Devotion. However she did it, she’s certainly a more confident vocalist now, and Teen Dream, as an album, reflects it.

The rolling, elegant guitar line that kicks off album opener “Zebra” evokes memories of “Gila,” Devotion’s strongest track. But here, rather than allowing the song to waltz along at a snail’s pace, the tempo picks up and the band adds a hi-fi snare drum and crashing cymbals. These rhythmic additions propel the track forward and complement the crappy drum machines that have come to characterize their sound. When the magnificent chorus hits, achieving a regal beauty unlike anything in their back catalogue, it’s clear this is a different Beach House.

The album’s first single, “Norway,” is similarly anthemic, with Legrand’s breathy backing vocals and Alex Scally’s jangly guitar giving way to a woozy organ line and one of the album’s most arresting vocal performances. “Walk in the Park,” which follows, is a lyrical highlight for the band. “In a matter of time/it would slip from my mind/In and out of my life/you would slip from my mind,” Legrand eulogizes. But as the song fades out over a beautiful organ melody, she grows more defiant. “More, you want more, you tell me/More, you want more, only time can run me.”

Undeniably, time has changed Beach House, and nowhere is this clearer than in the album’s poppy midsection. Its best track, “Lover of Mine,” an unusually angular and danceable take on their typical dream-pop, exemplifies Teen Dream’s palatable sense of wide-eyed wonder. When Legrand sings, “In a wide-open field we know we can feel/Awake and unreal, off to nowhere,” you might even feel like you’re coming of age again.

Keeping the surprises coming, “10 Mile Stereo” sounds straight from the future, with monstrous, echoing synths and a post-apocalyptic sense of empty space. It’s dynamic and exciting, a surprising relief between the subpar “Better Times” and “Real Love.”

With Teen Dream, Beach House has made its best album, one that showcases the band’s substantial growth in songwriting. They have incorporated a popular indie sound while staying true to their hypnotic roots, crafting an album that should please both their diehard fans and anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary on the indie-pop landscape.

Voice’s Choices: “Walk in the Park,” “Lover of Mine,”

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