Through a short career of just two albums so far, Beach House have gained a loyal following among critics and musicians. With single Norway gaining widespread airplay, their third album Teen Dream could see them gaining mainstream recognition.
Stirring, swirling, blissed-out soundscapes and the male-female dynamic of the duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand garnered comparisons with Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star. And as the contemporaries of sonic innovators such as Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, Beach House have laid the foundation of the dreamier side of sonic innovation.
For their third album, the Baltimore duo have steered a course away from the occasionally twee leaning of earlier releases – with recent singles Used To Be and Norway perhaps the most familiar sounding to those who know them already. But even these tracks are given extra dimensions with sonic architecture, intricate guitar picking, and Victoria Legrand’s surprisingly meaty vocals.
Legrand’s voice seems to have dropped several tones and developed a new huskiness since 2008’s Devotion, which seems in contrast to the mellifluousness on previous releases. At times it is hard to believe that the same person is singing, and on Walk In The Park or Zebra the vocals could easily be those of a man.
Silver Soul is a slow burning crescendo that ends with the repeated refrain “It is happening again”, recalling Twin Peaks. The kaleidoscope of sounds and layers of vocals and instrumentation recall Wild Beasts, but the inflexibility in Legrand’s voice, which makes it so substantial, doesn’t allow the elastic gymnastics that might help.
The extended dreamy outro of Take Care, in which Legrand repeats almost ad infinitum “I’ll take care of you, take care of you”, is true is swoonsome loveliness: an aural security blanket. But the standout moments are exactly that, for too often the concentration on the sonic architecture leads to highly orchestrated compositions deficient in hooks.
Teen Dream is no mean achievement; its song structures are at times jaw-droppingly intricate. But for the euphoric highs of 10 Mile Stereo and Norway there are too many complicated dirges. Ultimately it’s an incredibly rewarding listen, even if the self-observing anxiety that’s writ large throughout means it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights to which its creators have bravely aspired.