As far as breakthrough moments go, singing the harmony parts on a Grizzly Bear track that was hot on the blogs for a few months and appearing on a derided soundtrack are pretty small-time. But the fact that Victoria Legrand sang on “Two Weeks” and that her band recorded a new joint for the New Moon soundtrack was what suddenly (and finally) broke Beach House to an audience beyond loyal blog readers and those with a curiosity about male-female musical duos. Of course, it helps that Teen Dream, Beach House's third album, is the best thing the band has done. Legrand and her bandmate, Alex Scally, have been ready for a homerun shot since 2006's selt-titled debut, and they cracked this one into the stratosphere.
Superficially, there’s not much to distinguish Teen Dream from its predecessor, Devotion, or even the debut. There’s chilly organ lines that sound like they’re transmitted from inside the icy walls of the Fortress of Solitude. There’s guitarist Scally’s hardly there guitar riffs that crest like the splashing of a pond’s waves. And then there’s Legrand’s brassy, showtimey voice that audibly quakes with longing. And that’s it. There are no new tricks here, no new-found musical explorations. Just an assured confidence that comes with experience. In a time when bands explode and implode in a matter of months, Beach House has organically grown from a slight bedroom project into a band that can be ignored no longer.
From the opening chimes of “Zebra” through the regal tones of “Take Care,” Teen Dream (the band's first album for Sub Pop after two on Carpark) rolls out its charms in increasingly satisfying increments. The Kate Bush-esque “Norway” is the first show-stopper, coming off as a barren production on the first few listens, but exposing its multitude of depths on repeated trips. “Norway” gives way to “Walk Through The Park,” which hazes like sunlight through a musty curtain, and in turn acquiesces to the shuffling “Used To Be.” Scally and Legrand even shake some of their frigidness on the damn-near danceable “Lover of Mine,” a track with the same militaristic BPM as the others, but with a moving organ line that would make it fantastic for an awkward slow dance at an alt-prom.
The greatest success of Teen Dream, though, is its thematic connection. The musicians spent two albums making it clear they were nostalgic for something, anything. But Teen Dream is concerned with nostalgia for love lost with time (“Walk In The Park,” “Used To Be”); the kind of love that can be explained only by harmonious moans (“Real Love”); and the kind of devotion their last album only touched on (“Take Care”). It’s a good thing this is coming out close to Valentine’s Day; this should be soundtracking love affairs from Williamsburg down to Baltimore in no time.
And to the rest of the musicians putting out albums in 2010: Meet your competition.
Beach House's Victoria Legrand and Alex Scully isolated themselves during the creation of Teen Dream, holing themselves up in a converted church in upstate New York with producer Chris Coady. But despite that isolation, the sound of the record (according to the band) is anything but insular. Their first album for Sub Pop, and third overall, expands on the band's warm fuzz, resting their haunting sound on more rhythmic foundations. According to Legrand, "There's a different kind of intimacy, a physicality on Teen Dream." That physicality may ground you a little more in the hazy world of Beach House, but that might be a good thing. If this new world is as large as they claim it to be, it's best to keep your bearings.