Beach House - Teen Dream

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2010-01-26

Beach House are one of the great undiscovered bands of American alternative music but, as the duo (guitarist Alex Scully and singer Victoria Legrand) release their third LP, all signs are that this is about to change. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland - like Animal Collective (and The Wire, TV fans) - their sombre, shimmering dream pop has attracted admirers such as Julian Casablancas and Grizzly Bear, but not yet the sales and critical acclaim they are due. Their last record, 2008's Devotion, was wonderful, if slightly chilly; Teen Dream is warmer in tone, all sun-kissed melancholy, and yet it's simultaneously more intricate and more accessible, the songs seeming at first simple and affecting, but (like Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest last year) revealing new layers and textures with each play.

Opener 'Zebra' begins with a gorgeous guitar line and doleful 'aaahs', before Legrand whispers: "You know you're gold/ You don't gotta worry none," laying a sympathetic hand on the listener's shoulder and telling them that everything will be alright. It's followed by 'Silver Soul', powered by a stately, chugging bassline and embellished with lush, bittersweet harmonies. You might have already heard singles 'Used To Be' and 'Norway'. The former, a meditation on the impossibility of recreating the past, and featuring a beautiful chorus, slots in neatly here, despite being first released over 15 months ago. The latter is simply blissful: chiming guitars, ambling bassline, and a glorious melody allied with wistful, breathy backing vocals.

Legrand's singing seems more confident on Teen Dream - indeed, it holds the album together. Her smoky, achingly timeless voice can switch from deep authority to heartbreaking fragility in a beat. She's compared to Nico with tiresome but understandable regularity; her singing is just as powerfully mysterious and enigmatic, but less mannered, more direct. A trio of songs on the second half of the record demonstrate this to stunning effect: 'Better Times' has Legrand at her most Nico-esque; 'Lover of Mine', perhaps the best track on the album, is a darkly luscious torch song; while '10 Mile Stereo' begins with a thumping bass drum and one of Scully's intricate guitar lines before building to a shimmering, brilliant crescendo.

If Teen Dream has a fault - and I'm not sure that it does - it's that the pace rarely gets above lethargic. This is not a Saturday night record; perhaps it's for an emotional morning after - woozy, downbeat, slightly sad, yet peculiarly warm and comforting. Beach House's previous record, Devotion, frequently reminded me of Low, with its deathly slow, deliberate pace; Teen Dream is mildly more energetic, but more often than not, the songs are allowed to evolve organically, often from a simple guitar line or, on 'Real Love', a beautiful piano figure. In other words, the delights here never feel forced or contrived. 'Walk in the Park' is least typical of this featuring - what's this? - a riff on the chorus, and calling to mind Mazzy Star and the Cocteau Twins, but the album's tone is largely one of unhurried serenity.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Teen Dream, though, is the fact that comparisons with the Beach House's dream-pop ancestors are largely uninstructive: this is a band with a distinctive and perfectly formed aesthetic, here applied to seven magnificent songs and three very good ones. It's surely the sound of a band whose moment has come, and it's the first great album of the new decade.

Pete Sykes

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