What marks Teen Dream as a truly great record is the sea change from 2008’s masterpiece sophomore album Devotion. While the core framework of Alex Scalley’s meandering guitar lines, Victoria Legrand’s slinking organ lines and breathy, late-night croon remain; a full transfusion of life-blood has been performed. All ten tracks are immediately gripping and attention demanding, Teen Dream doesn’t live in your CD player like Devotion did. What was immediately reassuring, comforting and familiar about that album soon became ubiquitous in my life. I had that sucker on wherever and whenever, to the point that I forgot I was listening to it. Teen Dream has no interest in letting that happen. From the album’s first breath, Beach House has moved past the easy dream-pop qualifiers and into deeper, more mysterious territory.
“Zebra” opens the album with a driving plucked guitar line before Scalley and Legrand float in with a delicious vocal harmony. It is breathtaking the way Victoria broods over that first syllable of “You Know You’re Gold,” holding it just long enough to deliver a wink and a nod to songstresses of old. She repeats this through the line “Oasis child/born so wild.” Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, and Caithlin De Marrais have walked this path before, pouring themselves into a single note or bearing their souls in such a way to put extra emphasis on a vowel. More than a tribute to rocks sisters in arms, Teen Dream exudes the compositional confidence of a band well in its stride. “Silver Soul” features Scalley’s discovery of the reverb pedal on his chugging rhythm guitar line and diving, mournful lead guitar. Scalley’s guitar work comes close to stealing the show on a few tracks.
Compared to the subdued Devotion there are some downright rockin’ moments conjured up between them. The cymbal crashes and rushes of distortion on “Walk in the Park” and “10 Mile Stereo” (the album’s best track) accompany Legrand’s powerful voice. Her enunciation when she bellows “They carry us on/forever” creates a powerful, declarative punctuation on an even more powerful record. “10 Mile Stereo” boasts some of the album’s most transcendental tremolo picked guitar lines that lead bands like Mono and Mogwai to cathartic heights. This virtuosity is displayed again on “Walk In the Park” where Scalley and Legrand push each other into rushes of emotional release.
I am bringing a lot of attention to the noisier aspects of the new Beach House album because they stand out from their previous work. With that said, even at their loudest moments, Beach House arrangements are more lush and full then earsplitting or cacophonous. In fact they are largely just more emotionally expressive. Beach House can still play intricately-orchestrated dream pop like it’s 2007. The two singles “Used to Be” and “Norway” are clear examples. Both songs have breathtaking flourishes that require incredible attention to detail. Legrand’s breathy Erin Ferin-like vocals are matched with pitch shifted organ lines that dip in time with Scalley’s winding guitar lines that droop to meet her husky lilt. The chorus is built on that same interplay between the atmospheric guitar work and the percussion-like vocal lines. “Used to Be” is the most organ/piano-centered arrangement, boasting both a galloping drum pattern and sing-song melody that both follows and sometimes leads the upright piano.
Teen Dream may be one of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2010; with the duo’s move to Sub-Pop Records, their ties to the incredibly prolific Baltimore music scene, and the notice given to them from the likes of Grizzly Bear and Julian Casablancas. 2009 was a year of hyped-to-the-hilt albums, delivering on all fronts, and with Beach House’s new work, it looks like 2010 is off to a great start.