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One of the first of 2010's Masterpieces.,
This review is from: Teen Dream (Audio CD)
Where would some of these acts be without their lead singer? For instance: would The National be written off as dull and lifeless without the psychotic, deeply-toned heroics of Matt Berninger? How important was Thom Yorke to Radiohead when it came to not just delving into experimentation but also writing the pop-punk anthem that made them in the first place, `Creep'? And how could you predict the outcome of a Of Montreal without their frontman/alter-ego Kevin Barnes/ Georgie Fruit? It's the leaders of the pack that help the aforementioned in becoming some of the most formidable acts of the last decade or so. So just how much do Beach House rely on Victoria Legrand? For in `Teen Dream', she runs the show with no apologies.
In what is being anticipated as the duo's "breakthrough" record, Legrand pours every ounce of heartbreak and hope from inside her into each song, almost as if she's desperate to seize upon the opportunity. `Teen Dream' is this year's `Veckatimest' in that it's not only an album taking an established American act into headier skies, it's also a collection of songs deeply layered, created by perfectionists crafting relatively simple pop hooks - it's essentially an upping of the game.
The hustle, the thickness and the layering of songs on `Teen Dream' is something remarkable as the two-piece shove any restrictions upon their small size to one side. How such an album could adapt to the live circuit is another imagination entirely. On record; it's deep, rich and beautifully applied. Opener `Zebra' commences with a charming guitar line with only a thin layer of reverb to pay attention to. By its end, cymbals are being mercifully crashed, a chunk of atmosphere replacing the empty spaces in which the song built from. A lot of `Teen Dream' begins with simplicity (a tap-tap beat in `Used To Be' and `10 Mile Stereo') before developing into something entirely unpredicted - and this provides a teasing insight into the pair's songwriting technique: Everything here seems to come from the pit of ideas as a blank palette, before being adorned with the most beautiful of colours.
What's more impressive is that Beach House rarely over-complicate their songs into a state of self-indulgence. For all of `Silver Soul''s smart twists and turns, for every coating of atmosphere brought to life in `Norway', nothing simmers out into something charmless. Perhaps that's due to the simplicity of the melodies, but something tells me it's the performance of Legrand. In `Teen Dream', her voice acclimates to every hushed synth hook, to every powerful cry for help from the guitars and she treats the lyrics with such respect. In `Used To Be' she gets carried away into a swarm of melancholy and doubt, eventually delivering the line "coming home, any day now..." and repeating it as a means of hopelessly reassuring herself. `Silver Soul' sees her uptight and hysteric, every deliverance of the line "It is happening again" more ragged and heartfelt than the last, almost akin to Morrissey's cries of "Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head" in The Smiths' `I Know It's Over', only admittedly perhaps less morbid.
But it's in `Real Love' where Legrand (and let's not have a review that completely ignores other half Alex Scally) comes of age; merely relying on piano chimes and a subtle yet complimenting line of ambience that arrives in the background halfway through, it's arguably more effective than the more full-to-the-brim `Walk In The Park' and the aforementioned `Silver Soul'. And it highlights just how accomplished as songwriters both Legrand and Scally are; even whilst treating the "you won't be able to play that live" rule with respect, they shine just as much. And it's true that regardless of the circumstances, `Teen Dream' was always going to be the band's "arrival" into greatness, so long as no hideous mistakes were made. Not many of us could have anticipated such an assured arrival, however.