Music Review: Beach House, Teen Dream

I heard Beach House for the first time as the opening act to Grizzly Bear. I had never heard of them before and had not even known the name of the opening band to Grizzly Bear before the show. And so I had to form my opinion of them right then and there with nothing to influence me. I felt oddly devoid of pressure in making my choice, as though I had nothing to base my opinion off of – but the music was right there, right in front of my eyes! Is that not all I need?

I concluded that Beach House was decent, yet remained unenthused. I am used to opening bands being bad, and they were definitely pleasant. I remember distinctly hearing “Norway”, the name of the single from this album, and thinking that an integral part of the music was the pace it created. The shimmering pulse of the backing electric guitar makes the music move quite nicely – never overwhelmingly or tiresomely, but diligently. It was fun to watch and almost perfectly played the role intended of an opening act. The guitarist was using his instrument in a creative way and thus I found the band somewhat captivating.

I did not think about Beach House much more until a friend of mine heard my opinion of them; he replied that he loved Beach House and seemed surprised to hear a negative review. I decided to listen again. I went to to see if there were any free tracks to stream and picked from their most recent album, expecting them to have played off that most. But none of the songs sounded like what I had heard live – they lacked speediness and energy, and seemed limp and tired. They induced boredom because they never seemed to go anywhere.

I later found out they had a new single called “Norway” much nearer in description to what I remembered hearing. When I listened to the first song on Teen Dream, “Zebra”, I could not say I was disappointed. The song soared in a way new to the band. The result is vigorous and crisp. There is a sense of drama that was previously not there. It sounded like an upbeat lullaby.

The next song “Silver Soul” did not impress though. It was more or less a rehash of the first song and seemed less sure of itself. But then “Norway” queued in, and my opinion shifted back upward. The song perplexes me in that I cannot imagine even just what angle of attack must have been necessary to create it. Legrand’s vocals follow a wispy and elusive melody as the guitar dances away unobtrusively, supplementally and chaotically all at once. The song falls out of the chorus to a dull buzz in the background and constantly bending guitar tones that dance around instability and stability, suspense and resolution. The song hints subtly leading up to the final refrain at 3:30, which exhibits the most musical confidence of the band yet.

Both songs with love in the title were ironically of my least favorite; the band does not sound experienced on the piano, using it in a somewhat amateur way. “Better Time” is tacky rather than pretty with the worst lyric of the album, “how much longer can you play with fire/ before you turn into a liar?” But, songs like “Used to Be” use bright, glossy acoustics to tug around their pace in a convincing and artistic way. “10 Mile Stereo” has fantastic interplay between the drums and guitar. The song pivots at 1:30 as a note sustains and buzzes throughout a chord change and falls into a shoegazey grid of iridescence. It is a beautiful song I find intriguing; I cannot decide if it is happy or sad.

This album veers away from earlier works that lack animation, yet retains Beach House’s stylistic pleasantries. As a whole, though, the band still seems a little bit musically narrow and inexperienced, and will have to display fuller chops before one of their albums will truly hit home.

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