"Teen Dream" is LP number three from Baltimore's Beach House and is their strongest by some considerable distance. Running at 48 minutes, it offers 10 spellbinding, intelligently constructed and ever so slightly "abnormal" pop tunes and is a pure listening pleasure from beginning to end.
The album kicks off with "Zebra", a formidable opener with a seductive electric guitar pattern that simmers away and builds to a serene chorus. It is immediately apparent that the songwriting skills of this two-piece outfit have developed enormously since their last record. "Silver Soul" is next - a slow burner with singer Victoria Legrand performing a soulful vocal that sounds like a resigned sigh. The enveloping, echo-drenched organ chords work particularly well here. Third tune, "Norway", has had some radio play and is unsettlingly beautiful - just check out its DISEASED slide guitar line! It will lure you in, I guarantee it.
"Used to Be" is a truly wonderful, infectious ditty that you will find going round in your head as you wait for the morning bus. It contains a very jaunty, almost McCartney-esque vocal, a playful piano backing and a frisky "oompah-oompah" beat. It's one of those tunes that will compel you to drop your spoon into your cornflakes and just LISTEN.
"Lover of Mine" is also very powerful. It has all the alien beauty of a dark 1980s synthpop ballad, but without the pungent aroma of 1980s cheese. No, Beach House know a thing or two about subtlety. Their tunes are also leant a haunting, etheriel air by the production technique ("Teen Dream" was recorded in a cathedral by producer Chris Coady).
"Real Love" is possibly my favourite track here at the moment. At its foundation lies a great minor chord piano riff that could have been spun from the spindly fingers of Thom Yorke. Also, the vocal melody on this one is positively GHOSTLY. This captivating creation is followed by a suitably epic closing track - "Take Care" - which contains descending chords and a poignant vocal refrain : "I'd take care of you/ That's true".
I've had this album for a couple of days now and it has become a permanent fixture on my hi-fi. I know it's only January at the moment, but I'll be very impressed if we get to hear a BETTER album this year. You see, on many occasions recently I have purchased overly-hyped contemporary releases and, on listening, been underwhelmed and frustrated. I have often thought, "Can new music still excite me? Must I continue to delve into the past? Have all the best songs already been written?"
Albums like "Teen Dream" put such fears to rest. The music is simultaneously classic and lemon-fresh, sweetly seductive and highly relevant. In short, a musical treat. A MUST-BUY.
PS - This release contains a bonus DVD which contains a video for each of the ten tunes here. The quality varies, but if you like some visual accompaniment to your music then this special release is probably the one to plump for. However, in my humble opinion, it's all about the tunes. Oh, those glorious tunes.....................................................
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Beach House has the sort of sound that you'd expect from a band with that name -- languid, vaguely dreamlike pop, full of summer nights, sparkling stars and a twist of reto 60s psychedelica. "Teen Dream" is a pretty polished product of that sound -- it's basically a string of silvery pop tunes, all of them enjoyable and sweet but with only one real standout.
"Zebra" opens the album like a sunrise -- a languid cycling guitar, and murmured lyrics about a deceptive, exquisite person. "You know you're gold, you don't gotta worry none/Oasis child, born and so wild/Don't I know you better than the rest/All deception, all deception from you..." It slips easily into the second song, the mellow curling "Silver Soul."
The songs that follow are mostly in the same vein -- mellotron laced pop songs that reek of the 60s, breathless rustling stretches, peppy beach-party tunes like "Used To Be," and sparkly melodies that rattle and shimmer like a jewelry box. And if the first couple songs are sunrise, the final couple of songs are sunset -- a slow, easy descent into the stately "Real Love" and the soft, vaguely psychedelic "Take Care."
"Teen Dream" is a lot like Beach House's last two albums -- in other words, it's a fairly steady and unwavering little pop album. There are some little speckles of dancy sound or uptempo moments, but a lot of the time it's just a steady stream of mildly psychedelic pop. The biggest flaw is that there's only one real standout song on the album (the alluring epic "Walk in the Park").
In fact, the rest of the songs just bleed into a big satiny expanse, but fortunately they're very sweet, pretty songs. As for the instrumentation, it's all very smooth and seamlessly wound together -- lots of gentle percussion, cycling guitars, plinky keyboard and some tambourine, and colorful pillars of organ that prop up the slower melodies.
Victoria Legrand's raspy voice is a bit of a surprise at first, but eventually it sinks into the melodies and becomes a part of them. And while their lyrics have some awkward moments ("The heart is a stone and this is a stone that we throw"), but otherwise they tend to be a bit surreal and very evocative ("The needle along the spinning wheel/Collecting silver coil/It gathers heat without you"), with wooden houses, beaches, and lovers who want too much.
"Teen Dream" is a slightly more polished form of Beach House's signature sound -- mellow, sweet and very pretty. Nice work.
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Beach House emerged on the surface of my music collection late in the bands career. The first I heard of them was browsing Pitchfork, who connected them with sounding like Cocteau Twins, one of my favourite bands. Their music labelled under "dream pop" could be described with words such as ethereal, majestic, elegant, and charming. I did not think this style could have an equal twin so to speak, but like their music; listening to Teen Dream feels like being wrapped up in the world's biggest fluffy cloud whilst on a generous dose of diazepam.
Except this is not so much Cocteau Twins as a new band with the lead singer having vocals entirely unlike Elizabeth Frazier. Her sounds are deeper and more defined but suit the lower production values with a simplistic approach to the tracking. Where Beach House really impress is in the progression and gradual higher definition of the chord structures being used. This is an album which does not grab your full attention on first listen, and demands repeated listens for full effect.
Silver Soul relies on dissonance and sliding bottleneck guitar. This is the start to the album and actually sounds contrasting to the rest of Teen Dream in all it's catchiness. It's former, Zebra, has a gentle guitar lick which has a strange charisma about it, almost bereft of bass, whilst drum machines play and you actually picture horses galloping along to it.
Walk In The Park begins with an organ playing a relaxed, almost sombre ditty, with Scally's tense, aching guitar licks moving in an out of the track until a slight chord change moves the song into spacey territory with trademark Robin Guthrie guitar enveloping around you.
The greatest display of Beach House's writing comes on Lover Of Mine, which has two parts, verse/chorus repeated - and then breaks down into what can only be described as an orgasmic assault of intense emotions ranging from loss to overwhelming pleasure, which fades quickly and demands the listener repeat this adventure. It's also where the lead singer reaches her vocal pinnacle as she hits high notes and for a second sounds like Alison Goldfrapp.
The closing of Teen Dream changes the setting somewhat with Real Love, a fairly non-dreamy effort, but still soothing somewhat.
This is often recognised as Beach House's best album, although I have to disagree as Bloom is overall a more consistent album throughout. Teen Dream's only critique from me is the last quarter does not match up to the former. Never-the-less, this is still essential listening for fans of dream pop and one where Beach House cement themselves in the genre above so many.
For many it was only a matter of time until Beach House delivered big time and sought world domination. For this punter alternatively (with the exception of a couple of songs such as "Apple Orchard" on their debut and "Holy Dances" and "Gila" on their second LP "Devotion") a sense of deep indifference has been the predominant feeling about this band. Indeed if truth be told they seemed like a bunch of Mazzy Star sound-alike's with "Fade into you" the overused template. What a mad fool I have been, "Teen Dream" is an outright stunner and propels them into the major leagues.
The anticipation around this album across American music blogs has been huge largely as a consequence of widespread leaks of the album. The result is that it is already being hyped up as this year's Animal Collective equivalent e.g. an album released in the first month of the New Year which will dominate 2010's musical landscape. In the first place a comparison between "Teen Dream" and "Merriweather" makes little sense since they are chalk and cheese in terms of musical styles. But more than this they are unhelpful since they burden "Teen Dream" with a comparison which it does not need and a weight of expectation that this fragile beauty should not be required to carry. After all it is the quality of the music that counts.
Beach House is a duo from Baltimore comprising Victoria Legrand (yes she is related to the French composer Michel) and Alex Scally. "Teen dream" is on the Bella Union label and recorded in a church in upstate New York and you can tell. This is an album of real grace and power. The songs are characterised by an ethereal dreamy pop sensibility and Legrand's voice has echoes of Nico, Marianne Faithful, Patti Smith and of course Hope Sandoval. It gives a slightly hard, sultry and sometimes raspy edge to Beach House's sweet melodies and Scally's wonderful backing instrumentation.
The album starts brilliantly with the sublime "Zebra" which sets the tone for the rest of the album with its slow guitar lines that build and burn into a classic pop anthem. It is gorgeous stuff as is "Silver Soul" which follows it. And then there is "Norway" the single which has been readily available for months. In this reviewers humble opinion it is one of the greatest pop songs of this century thus far. Legrand's vocal is as smokey as a fine Cuban cigar and contrasts with the breathless backing vocals. This mix is combined with a weird and slightly distorted electronic backing but which works in spades. It is bloody perfect and if you don't get the album at least download this. The slow processional pop of "Walk in the Park" which follows "Norway" is remarkably its equal and provides no let up. These first four songs are by far the strongest opening quartet to an album which I have heard in many years.
"Used to be" has shades of the wonderful innocence found on Mercury Rev's "Deserters Songs" album and for some reason "Lover of Mine" reminds me of "Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence" with a slight Japanese feel. "10 mile stereo" is easily the best vocal performance by Legrand on the whole album. The only qualms I have come in the shape of "Real Love" and "Take care" which are the tracks at the moment that I can't get too worked up about. "Take Care" has one of those constant repeat vocals that go on beyond the point of irritation.
Small caveats for what is a towering performance. "Teen Dream" is a lush and magisterial album that you would be fool not to let it into your life. They support Grizzly Bear in the forthcoming spring UK tour and that will be some concert. 2010 is starting well "Teen Dream" shifts it up a gear.
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Is it possible to declare an album as 'Album of The Year' on January 30th?
NO is the simple answer, but 'Teen Dream' by the wonderful Beach House tries it's damned hardest.
Beach House, for the uniniciated are a boy/girl duo (Alex Scally/Victoria LeGrand) originally from Baltimore (also the location of T.V series The Wire, so hoorah for that). They released their self-titled debut in 2006 and critics were quick to proclaim them 'the saviours of American Indie' and comparisons to Mazzy Star and Galaxie 500 were shouted from the rooftops. In 2008 they followed up with the sublime 'Devotion' in which they seemed to discover a poppier sheen whilst staying true to their sombre, downtempo stlye. It was a fantastic release, but one which now resembles only a hint of what this incredible duo are capable of.
So here we are in 2010 and Beach House have unleashed a monster. Comparisons to last years Animal Collective album 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' are already causing the internet to buckle under their weight, mentions of Grizzly Bear comparisons are sending every blogger & sceptic off to discover the record, and here I am already proclaiming it as 'Album of The Year'. So not much hype to live up to then!!!.
But for once the hype is entirely justified, for this is not just a great record, it really does sound like a group at the top of it's game. Imagine, if you will, when Radiohead released OK Computer, or back in 1999 when The Flaming Lips unleashed 'The Soft Bulletin', or indeed last year when Animal Collective released 'Merriweather Post Pavillion' (there I go again). This is Beach House's equalivent, it's their masterpeice.
Opener 'Zebra' begins with just a lone guitar lick until it is joined by some beautiful harmonies and finally the stunning vocals of LeGrand. The tracks builds steadily with solid percussion puncturing the thick atmosphere. After this stately introduction the record picks up pace with possibly it's three strongest tracks. 'Silver Soul' comes across as a lost Afghan Whigs demo, with a haunting guitar and LeGrand singing the blues, the final minute sees her repeat the refrain: 'It is happening again', it is both heartbreaking and prothetic. Track 3 is the lead-off single 'Norway' and once again we are treated to some stunning harmonies intertwined with great production and musicianship even if it does resemble Fleetwood Mac jamming with My Bloody Valentine a little too much. But all this greatness only feels like a appetiser for the main course that is 'Walk In The Park'. This is without doubt the records high-point and feels like one of the great musical moments of this virginial decade. Once again it comes across as a Fleetwood Mac/My Bloddy Valentine supergroup (wow, just imagine Lindsey Buckingham and Kevin Shields jamming!!!!!!!) but with the added beauty of LeGrand's voice. It all leads towards a stunning fade-out with keyboards and organs pushed right to the top of the mix. After such a superb run of songs you would expect any album to falter and lead towards diminishing results, not so with this beast. Other highlights include track 6 'Lover Of Mine' and closer 'Take Care' which again features a wonderful fade-out (whatever happened to the fade-out?, it seems so under used in modern music). All of this adds up to a truly monumental release.
But of course it is only January and with new releases promised this year from The National, Fleet Foxes, LCD Soundsystem, Sufjan Stevens (finally) and Arcade Fire it is much too presumptious to be hailing this Album of 2010, but if it isn't in the higher echelons come December I'd be both saddened and shocked.
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