Videos by American Songwriter
[Rating: 5 stars]
There’s something about the build-up to a band’s third album. A make-or-break ho hum that is often unavoidable. Will they cleanse the nasty aftertaste from a sophomore slump? Will they hit a plateau after a promising progression? Will they continue to demonstrate genuine talent after two terrific releases, solidifying itself as more than another overnight blogosphere sensation? Will they drop a dud and fizzle into mediocrity? Wasn’t it J Mascis that said, “Anticipation/is making me wait/ keeping me waiting?”
For Beach House, the third album finds the Baltimore, Maryland-based duo with a new home, Sub Pop, one of the biggest players in today’s independent music world. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally released their eponymous debut and follow-up, Devotion, on local stalwart Carpark Records. Beach House was an enchanting work of bedroom pop. Icy instrumentation lured the listener in, allowing Legrand’s vocals to exercise a certain mystique. It showcased songs such as “Apple Orchard,” with the capacity to slowly envelop one’s every thought like a steady snow falling on a bed of dry leaves. Beach House quickly drew somewhat apt comparisons to Mazzy Star. However, one could tell that Legrand and Scally were fashioning their own coat.
Devotion further evidenced Beach House’s construction of a singular style. Though the band seemed to be creeping away from the bedroom, their second release built on the magical simplicity of Beach House. The subtly beefed-up production provided a sturdier device, allowing Legrand and Scally to better showcase their increasing propensity for creating sublime slow jams. Whereas many a band has trouble with its follow-up record, Beach House took a step forward with Devotion and in the process drew praise from critics and peers alike.
Which brings us to Teen Dream, ten songs of irresistible majesty recorded with producer Chris Coady (TV On the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead) in a converted church in upstate New York. From the initial notes of “Zebra,” one notices an increased urgency in the band’s music. The elements that made their first two albums so alluring are still present: Legrand’s smoky vocals, lush organs, the synthetic drum pulse and Scally’s slithering guitar licks. But this is a much larger Beach House. Vocal layering, crashing cymbals and propulsive melodies meld on “Zebra” to create one of their most grandiose tracks to date. And it’s only the first cut on the album.
“Silver Soul,” the next track, is no less beautiful. The steady burner churns crusty guitars, ambling beats and Legrand’s repeated chorus of “it is happening again,” slowly shaping a skyward-reaching tower of sound. The heavenly vibe carries over onto “Norway,” the album’s lead single. Legrand’s voice floats above a choir of delicate backing harmonies and a driving rhythm—the only tether that keeps the song from drifting beyond the cotton candy clouds. It sounds like a modern interpretation of what would have been a Spector girl-group standard. Four minutes of psychedelic, bubblegum ecstasy.
Throughout this initial stretch, Legrand’s vocals are nothing short of otherworldly. The next three songs on Teen Dream make the case for her as one of the most arresting singers in modern music. “Walk in the Park,” presents a fresh take on the textbook Beach House song. Rich guitar tones and a clattering drum pulse swirl into the familiar, dense organ, creating a hypnotic foundation for the songstress’ haunting croon. “Used to Be” is a rollicking dreamboat; if ever there were a tune to listen to while coasting along in a Cadillac convertible, this is it. “Lover of Mine” takes a darker slant; Legrand reveals her sultry side on a mid-tempo pop number everyone will wish played at their senior prom.
Do not forget that Beach House is a duo. Scally’s riffing during the second verse of “Lover” serves as a good reminder. As do his eerie harmonies on “Silver Soul” and the aforementioned “Lover.” Furthermore, his slinking six-string style adds sinew to “Better Times” and “10 Mile Stereo.” On the latter, Legrand’s words transcend a shimmering song structure. But perhaps Scally’s most compelling contribution is found in the gorgeous keyboards he plays on “Real Love.” Like Beach House as a whole, there is nothing overly ornate about his parts; just brilliant, simple flourishes crafted into unbelievable pop songs.
“Take Care” might be the perfect ending for Teen Dream. The song shows a group completely in control. Every element is present: crystalline organ lines, subtle guitar licks, sturdy percussion and stunning vocals. With their third full-length effort, Beach House forces the listener to re-examine pop music status quo while taking another giant stride as a band. In doing so, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally throw down the gauntlet for the rest of 2010