Pre-release hyperbole can be a curse for many albums but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s not without merit. This time last year, Merriweather Post Pavilion was being hailed as a masterwork, nay, the masterwork; the benchmark by which all future albums would be judged. Last month, sure enough, it was placed in the top three (mostly at number one) on the usual slew of year’s end lists that the assorted music press tend to throw up of a December.
And so to the much-blathered about Teen Dream. Beach House are nearly the perfect model for a modern hipster band: Pitchfork-approved boy/girl combo, both from Baltimore, girl’s uncle an Oscar-winning French composer, Grizzly Bear are fans and they are signed to Bella Union here and Sub Pop in the US. It would have been easy for Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand to just churn out another delectably dreamy album of breathy vocals and mesmerising, mellifluous minimalism – but that is not the path they’ve chosen.
In a departure from the sparse, woozily-horizontal vibe of their last two albums, this time the pair buggered off to a converted church in upstate New York with painfully well-connected producer/mixer/engineer Chris Coady (TV On The Radio, Telepathe, Gang Gang Dance, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’¦I know, I know) in tow, a move that has given them a bit of’¦well, rhythmic oomph.
You’re undoubtedly aware of -Norway’, the frankly gorgeous track released last November as a free download. That song should have you slightly prepared for the direction in which the duo has gone on this, their third album. Things have sped up slightly, they hit a little harder and yes, the drum machine remains present and correct. Instrumentally, there’s a lot more going on behind Legrand’s hypnotic vocals, which take off more than they have previously done – at times her voice almost seems to be on the verge of breaking.
Upon first listen, -Zebra’ sounds absurdly familiar with its straight-up guitar work, swelling backing vocals and Legrand’s voice in all its glory. -Used To Be’ is probably as good a reason as any for Grizzly Bear fans to snaffle this album, with its piano, tambourine and layered-vocals barreling towards a more familiar Beach House sound. -Better Times’ gives off a lovely Twin Peaks vibe while the thumping (for Beach House, it’s thumping anyway) -10 Mile Stereo’ ups the tempo a fair bit with a 4/4 beat that may even see a few Matthew Dear or Diplo remixes floating about in the coming months.
This is a magnificent album, moving noticeably away from the warm fuzzy ground they once occupied but without totally abandoning their established -sound’. The haze has not completely lifted and there’s a fresh dose of confidence flooding from the speakers – given the use of a wider selection of instrumentation – with said confidence also emanating from Legrand herself. Beach House still produce haunting music that is firmly embedded in the moment just before you exhale, or as you slowly emerge from the blur of a dewy Malick morning, dragging your fingertips through the tall grass, hearing music you can almost grasp in the half-light – but now they’ve added another, very welcome, layer or three.
Teen Dream is bursting with a slight weirdness, some very interesting departures and firm melodies within hypnotic, more robust songs. For a third-album-band in its relative infancy (founded in 2004), it is astounding that Beach House can now produce something so brilliantly complete, catchy and yet unique. Expect this to be well–listified’ in December this year. You can’t ask for much more than that.