Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beach House - Teen Dream (2010)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9
[Sub Pop]

With Teen Dream, highly acclaimed lo-fi dream pop duo Beach House continues their gradual embrace of higher production values, but that was probably to be expected. The more significant and surprising shift for their third LP, however, is that of mood. Teen Dream is a noticeably lighter affair than its two predecessors. Whereas Devotion was an album made for haunted houses and unsettled spirits, Teen Dream mines the duo's sleepy keyboards and Victoria Legrand's ambiguous moans for soundtracking the spirit of...well...teens.

From the cymbal crashes and rumbling drums of "Zebra" to the kaleidoscopic shuffle of "10 Mile Stereo", Teen Dream is constantly reinforcing the imagery of wide open fields, walks in the park and the wild nature of animals as metaphors for youth and freewheeling lovers. 'Beasts' and 'hunters' lurk under the lazy guitar figures and shimmering psychedelia of album highlight, "Norway", but Legrand suggests that the push and pull of these violent mates contains something sacred and beautiful; something that opens the "billions of stars to your fate". Even if she still sounds like she's lonely and lost, the brighter textures emphasize the hope in her isolation this time around, rather than the heartbreak.

Nostalgic romance is the star of the show. "Better Times" sways through snapshots of American Graffiti with its vintage guitar riff and gentle rock. "Real Love" gets stuck swooning over just the opening of "Don't Stop Believin" for maximum emotional punch. Gorgeous album closer, "Take Care" employs baroque touches to recreate a long carousel ride with your first true love. There's always been a dusty element to Beach House's music that could make listeners think about old photo albums, but the fondness emanating on Teen Dream will probably make you actually break them out.

But however satisfying it may be to see Beach House realize their potential in some ways, it also sort of reveals just how unremarkable the core elements of their sound have always been. Devotion and even Beach House might have been transitional works, but their mystery and dark underbelly translated for much more replay value. When certain songs got boring, the atmosphere carried the album. On the other hand, Teen Dream is far more open about its intentions, which is to stun you with its beauty before...actually, that's it.

The buzz-n-fuzz of "Silver Soul" may initially catch your ear, but the trick quickly runs thin. On "Lover of Mine" the duo seems to suffer from the same problem, getting so lost in the tone and texture of their keyboards that they forget to craft a song that does anything other than drift beautifully. Ultimately that's the thing that keeps Teen Dream from being as flat-out stunning as Devotion; it's remarkably well-painted, but that doesn't change the fact that you're looking at wallpaper. After all the advances and evolution made in genres like Electronica, Hip Hop and Dubstep that other sub-sections of the indie pop world have already thoroughly integrated and embraced, you have to wonder where that leaves sleepy and fairly simple artists like Beach House. There's no denying that Teen Dream is one of the first good albums of the new year, but what's questionable is whether or not it's that important.

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