BEACH HOUSE – Teen Dream (2010)

Last year, Bat For Lashes set the new standard for modern dream pop with Two Suns; now, perhaps there are some people out there thinking I’m giving Natasha Khan too much credit, but to those people, I will only say “go back and listen to Two Suns, then report back to me.” I’m convinced that anyone of reasonable intelligence can’t remain in the dark about the album’s supremely ethereal beauty for long. So, now that that’s out of the way, let me bring this around to the topic at hand. Namely: Beach House clearly have a lot to live up to on Teen Dream, their third album and their first for Sub Pop.

Now, I’ve kind of always had a bit of a flawed relationship with Beach House. Their first two albums, 2006’s eponymous debut and 2008’s
Devotion, were very lush and atmospheric, but sometimes, the music got too comfortable with its own sense of serenity, and became stagnant. To give Beach House credit, they were confident enough in their sound to keep it intensely focused on the path they were heading; a lesser band might’ve balked at the prospect of so much tranquility on a single record, but Beach House embrace it as a virtue. That’s admirable, and more importantly, it made for some lovely (if, in my book, a bit one-dimensional) albums. I bring this up because now, having gone through Teen Dream several times, I’m still a bit puzzled what to attribute the band’s newfound musical vitality to, but in any case, I’m extremely greatful for it. If Beach House and Devotion were dreamy black-and-white photos, Teen Dream is a vibrant panoramic landscape. There’s a joie de vivre here that their other albums were missing – I just didn’t know they were missing them until now.

A huge part of this comes from one key modification to the band’s musical palette: the band’s omnipresent synthetic drum loops share the stage heavily with real, actual percussion, far more than they ever have before. This doesn’t sound like that big of a change, but it adds a whole new depth to the band’s music; compare a song like Lover of Mine to any of the songs off their earlier albums, and tell me that Lover of Mine isn’t the more memorable one, even though the actual drums on the song serve essentially the same function as their drum machine loops did. Elsewhere on the album, we find the band making minute, but dramatically effective changes that elevate their songs to a whole new level, be it the percussive crest on 10 Mile Stereo (the album’s best song), the slight upswing in tempo (as on Used To Be and Better Times), or just a more refined sense of melody and drive (the picture-perfect album closer, Take Care). In any case, the band simply have never sounded better. There’s no better way to summarize than that.

Teen Dream has all the makings of an indie breakout record, so don’t let it take you by surprise if the band show up on late night TV at some point, or get a few blurbs in Rolling Stone (note: both of these things may have already happened, so in case they have, I add this addendum – don’t be surprised if it happens more). In a way, the album showed me that the band wasn’t ever really missing anything on their previous albums, they just needed a bit of a musical makeover of sorts. Does it top Two Suns? Admittedly no, but it gives it one hell of a run for its money.

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