Dean Van Nguyen
posted on January 14, 2010 18:00
A review of the album 'Teen Dream' by Beach House
Review Snapshot: Beach House's third album is a full of gentle melodies, rich in Autumn tones, and heavy on guitar reverb. Business as usual then.
The CLUAS verdict? 6 out of 10
Teen Dream sees the proverbial “double edged sword” swinging right back in Beach House’s direction with the same amount of force and velocity that Devotion, their sophomore album, generated in 2008. That’s the drawback of having a sound so distinctive - escaping it can be problematic. On album number 3 they all too comfortably slide back into their groove, creating an album that sounds like a straight forward continuation of their previous work.
Like an old pair of slippers that become so familiar you couldn’t remember what colour they were without taking a sneaky glance, Teen Dream fits the band a little too snugly. Their trademark sound of cheap organs, heavily-reverbed guitars, drum machines and Victoria Legrand’s pretty and unmistakable voice are all still present and all still sound great. So much so that I feel a little harsh giving it a somewhat negative review, seeing as it’s an equally strong set as their previous album, which whirled around my CD player as much as any disc in 2008. My relationship with Devotion was the classic romance. Love, infatuation, plenty of good times and, ultimately, break up – all within a couple of months. I’ve since moved on, only spinning the album occasionally for nostalgia. But Teen Dream feels like the lover who just can’t let go.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty here to admire. The production quality continues to improve album to album, and is richer than ever before. The opening three tracks may be the strongest the band ever laid down next to one another. Opener ‘Zebra’ sets the tone with Alex Scally’s optimistic guitar loops, and Legrand’s punched out vocals on the chorus. “Any way you run, you run before us. Black and white horse arching among us,” she croons with the sweeping intensity the lyrics suggest. Regaling the listener with their hazy, autumn charm has always been effortless for Beach House, and they are uniformly brilliant on the reverb saturated ‘Silver Soul’ and ‘Norway’ which benefits greatly from an increase in tempo.
Frustratingly the second half of the record struggles to impose itself, and the band begin to sound like they’re in autopilot. A common side-effect of a lack of growth is the assumption that following the same formula that has worked in the past is guaranteed to succeed. Not so. ‘Lover of Mine’ for instance sports a well worn melody that’s lazily sung and Scally’s wishy-washy riff is totally forgettable. Likewise, the gentle taps on an out-of-tune piano does little to leave an impression on ‘Real Love’. Side B isn’t without a highlight though, and what a highlight! ‘10 Mile Stereo’ follows the “quiet to loud” formula, opening with shimmering guitars and Legrand’s elegant melody before escalating to a dreamy, cymbol heavy wonderland, the singer’s wonderful vocal never allowing itself to be drowned out by the epic arrangement.
So while Teen Dream often satisfies, my main gripe is that it treads much the same lines as its predecessors. Indeed, ‘Used to Be’ dates back to 2008 but effortlessly slides into position here without damaging the album’s continuity. Beach House are trapped in a cage of their own creation, becoming robotically efficient at creating good, but similar albums, seemingly fearful of wandering too far from the winning formula. When this happens inevitably your affection is always centred on the first one you discovered – Devotion in my case. But this is their first release on indie powerhouse label Subpop and will undoubtedly shift more units that their other records, meaning the beginning are many more great love affairs. For me, there is no movement in any direction here. Without movement bands – like relationships – will inevitably shrivel and die.