Beach House: Teen Dream
It's already a consensus pick--the Merriweather Post Pavilion of 2010, perhaps--and why shouldn't it be? Beach House came onto Baltimore's scene in 2006 with a simple idea about music: unassuming basic pop melody over equally unassuming machine percussion. The result was duo love songs reimagined in a lovely nonplace where everything moves slower and glistens from every angle in the light from a very distant sun.
It was more than lo-fi or sublimely executed bedroom pop. The sound Beach House introduced those few short years ago seemed wholly dependent on creating an atmosphere and then feeding on it. Victoria Legrand's voice was lovely on the pair's debut, and you got the sense that her voice could explode/rise/crush small objects, but wouldn't, and shouldn't.
Fast forward four years and another widely lauded album--still lo-fi, but slowly surfacing to aesthetic lucidity--later, Beach House is signed by indie's heaviest, Sub Pop; has spent weeks with indie production's heaviest, Chris Coady; and introduced a drummer. And just with that information, you have to wonder how it will compute, how what seemed a very special equation could go hi-fi intact. Beach House has even re-recorded its stellar "Used to Be"--a rubric for the feelings of distance and longing and how they come together--with spit and shine.
Well then, how does Beach House stay Beach House, and can it even commune with the band remembered above? It does, and Teen Dream makes the questions seem foolish. It should have been obvious from the beginning: Like a lot of "lo-fi" music, the secret beneath the dirt is amazing songwriting. Let the two work with a disco beat, and you'd still have something effective and very Beach House; put a hip-hop beat behind Legrand, and you could get safe odds on the result. "Used to Be" is, here, a lovely song, warmer and cleaner, but the dream is still such a sad and pretty one, Alex Scally's organ is dropped for a gorgeous piano interpretation--like looking at the same thing through different lenses.
The wholesale introduction of piano is one thing, but most striking is Legrand's voice. Indeed, it touches clouds on Teen Dream, manifesting--finally?--as an indie-rock diva cum force of nature. Her vocals soar upward on "Norway" like they're sailing on ridges of air currents. Mingling prettily with a steel or slide guitar on the languid, arresting "Silver Soul," her upper range searches for entirely new limits, and doesn't find them.
Beach House of yore was seldom extravagant--rhythm, organ, voice--and it never felt like it needed to be. Teen Dream is lush in many places, with guitar, slide guitar, organ, live drums, and more weaving into baroque, orchestral pop music. The sum of this new equation is successful, but the slow-motion sway of "Real Love"--simple piano and voice--implies, rather, that there is no equation. It's so spare, unadorned--not the bedroom Beach House of yore, yet defiantly the band that's grown on us so much over the past four years. And the evidence is that this is a band that has been grossly underestimated, even by its fans.