Album Review: Beach House ‘Teen Dream’

It took me a while to prepare for writing this review. For one thing, Beach House’s ‘Teen Dream’, the American duo’s third album, is one that not only demands, but requires, several listens in order to fully grasp. It is also the hyped hipster album of the moment, so I wanted to do it justice instead of either immediately dismissing it as overrated or buying into the buzz without a second thought.

It was released last month, but leaked late last year, so I’ve had it for a while. Truthfully, I listened to it a few times and immediately dismissed it as monotonous, repetitive rubbish. ‘Dream pop’ has never exactly been my favourite genre, and, having not heard Beach House’s previous albums, I at first classed this as just another pretentious and inaccessible album.

In some ways, I stand by these initial judgements. Despite what people have said about ‘Teen Dream’ being accessible dream pop, to me it is still damn hard to like it. It is not immediately catchy, and most lyrics are not even intelligible at first, meaning that there is no sense of thematic continuity throughout the album. I don’t think this heralds a new more accessible direction for dream pop, and I certainly don’t see this album being an overwhelming commercial success à la ‘XX’.

Thanks to many listens, however, I can now say that I in fact love ‘Teen Dream’, and that it is probably the first truly essential album of the decade.

Above all else, it is an incredibly lush record. Beach House (Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) have created an album that perfectly encapsulates its name: their third record really does evoke a dream-like state. It is slow and measured, gorgeous and exotic, and so very bittersweet that it is almost happy.

Once you start focusing on the lyrics, you realise that there is an exemplary thematic link to this record. All previous Beach House albums have focused around the concept of loss, but they have never been as concentrated as they are on ‘Teen Dream’, which is an album dealing with lost love. “Don’t forget the nights where it all felt right, are you not the same as you used to be?” pines Alex on Used To Be, the most accessible song on the album.

‘Teen Dream’ evokes memories you’re not quite sure if you have, and it takes you to places you’re not quite sure you’ve ever visited.

I read someone saying that the record reminded them of Holden Caulfield wandering around a foggy New York street at midnight, and that is the absolute best analogy of the album I have heard. It in introspective and reflective, but it is the musical talent of the band that prevent it from becoming pretentious. Organs guide the album with a soft hand as it wanders that New York street, and they serve to make the album even more layered, textured, and complex.

It is the type of album where every song could be someone’s favourite. They all sound kind of the same, anyway. It is up to the listener to find the subtle differences and explore the complexities between tracks, and I’m guessing that most people will gravitate towards the song that speaks most to them. For me this is Walk In The Park, which is magnificent in its brutal honesty: “In a matter of time, you would slip from my mind”.

Oddly, for a band who sing mostly unintelligible lyrics, the words really are a huge part of Beach House. My theory is that the moment I started listening to their lyrics and understanding them is the moment I started really enjoying this album. You jut can’t help but stand back in wonder at a band singing: “The heart is a stone and this is a stone that we throw. Put your hand on this stone, it’s the stone of a home you know. They say we will go far, but they don’t know how far we’ll go. With our legs on the edge and our feet on the horizon” (10 Mile Stereo).

Norway is just supreme as it builds to an unforgettable climax with lots of ‘Ooh’s and ‘Aah’s, and 10 Mile Stereo is another track that jumped out at me. For the most part however, this is a restrained album. When it explodes, however, it is just phenomenal- see Alex’s vocals on Real Love that simply soar, backed by a ticking clock of all things, and any time that Victoria takes over lead vocal duties.

I really don’t know how to sum up this album, because it is like trying to sum up a dream: the harder you try, the more things seem to slip away. But yet at the same time I have to bear in mind that if I had reviewed this album a week ago this would be a very different article. That’s part of the beauty of ‘Teen Dream’ however, it doesn’t give itself to you easily; you have to explore it in order to appreciate it.

It is just like a teen dream: it at once more beautiful and more bittersweet than the real world could ever be.

Now, back to exploring.

One Response to “Album Review: Beach House ‘Teen Dream’”

  1. i think you’ll find that victoria legrand does the majority of the singing, including parts youve attributed to alex. her husky, cat-poweresq vocals may have confused you. i heard this album without being exposed to any hipster hype and fell deeply and madly in love with it. silver soul blows my mind. did you know they pretty much made the album for teenagers to make out to it? how cool is that!

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