Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Memory Tapes; dream-pop indie shoegazers are launching their own quiet invasion. Fresh into the flotsam of the latest wave lands Beach House’s third studio album, Teen Dream, a delicately complex paean to young love and human connectedness, and the boldest offering to date from the Baltimore-based duo.
Entering into the album’s world of disjointed piano, spaced-out production and off-kilter guitars can only be compared to the disorienting, nostalgic headrush of remembered love, the stupefying yet comforting intoxication of which is rendered near perfectly. Teen Dream has the sonal aesthetic of a Brian Wilson production, only filtered, fragmented and shattered; a mosaic made from the small but cumulative remains. Across the album, songs are painstakingly constructed in layers and then effortlessly unravelled again, maintaining constancy through soothing monotone organs or deliciously drawn-out synth notes.
Teen Dream is melodically stronger than the duo’s first two offerings, tracks such as ‘Silver Soul’ and ‘Norway’ marking out its credentials as a true pop record. Yet to think of the album in terms of its component tracks is to do a disservice to its quality as a complete, self-contained unit; not since Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea or The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? has an album so demanded to be listened to in one sitting. It is a record which moves in waves, sweeping the listener from one track to the next in a blissed-out haze; to skip tracks seems almost churlish, like jumping out of a carousel mid-spin.
The Beach Boys-soaked harmonies, jaunty tambourines and clean Telecaster guitars provide the pop foundations for the record, while the organs oscillate between long, mournful drones with an insistent monotony Stereolab would be proud of, and a short, stabbing, come-to-the-fair lightheartedness. Opening track ‘Zebra’ establishes the course along which the whole work floats and glides: fluid guitars, tentative, broken beats, backing vocals mistier than sea-spray, leading vocals sung with a woozy tender confidence. Victoria Legrand’s never more expressive voice ranges from a soothing constant in amongst the shifting, swirling guitars, to a fragile Nico-esque slump, to a soaring triumphant cry; the ballad ‘Real Love’ is her masterpiece, a clunky Cat Power-style meditation dragged along by her resigned, anguished vocal
Album closer ‘Take Care’ sends the record careening off into the sunset with its lilting refrain “I’ll take care of you” dissolved gently over minutes and minutes of repetition. Imagine watching fireworks fade from the sky one January evening on Wigan pier and you would be somewhere near the tone of this album; it is bleak, but pretty; nostalgic, swirling, impermanent. There are minor flaws to be found – the occasional lyrical unrefinement, a desire for more layers here and there when the repetition becomes quietly oppressive – but these do not detract from the smooth, odd and beautiful quality of the record. As a whole, this teenage dream is hard to beat.
[Bella Union; January 25, 2010]