Beach House – Teen Dream


Both being a teen and dreaming can be disorienting, strange, and something from which you might soon want to flee; both can be a terrifying nightmare. But the title of Baltimore-duo Beach House’s third album also suggests a nostalgia for the innocence of adolescence, especially that which lives in the awkward but potent era of youthful self-discovery. On Teen Dream, all these confusing emotions, reminiscent of so many helpless teenage nights, gain expression through Victoria Legrand’s intense, captivating alto and Alex Scally’s alternately thudding and playful guitar.

With this disc the pair holds onto their successful formula of warming pop melodies and timeless structures, and this is not to their detriment. Indeed, the tracks exist to service Legrand’s stop-you-in-your-tracks voice that carries so much power, sorrow, or wonder, and Scally’s endearingly shy yet commanding guitar; the synth and organ hums merely provide the scenery. Funnily enough, though the word most often used to describe Beach House is “dreamy,” they craft some pop in this album that’s downright exuberant, exhibiting the volatile emotional state of the titular life stage.

First single “Norway” leaps immediately into a swirling cloud of coos and disorienting guitar that certainly wouldn’t be appropriate before bedtime. The accompaniment plays drunkenly behind the vocals in the verse, moving the track along its woozy way until the chorus resumes the din and tells the audience where it all went down…it’s Norway. Before there’s time to really figure out what’s going on, the song closes with Legrand wailing the name of this destination in some sort of cleansing, showy release.

“Used to Be” is a wonderful melodic and tempo departure for Beach House, and yet sounds so decidedly like them. It begins with a jumpy, staccato vocal line mirrored by classic piano, a slippery thing that sets a playful tone before it all escalates into an alarmingly cheerful high that never goes away. The track only gets bigger and bigger until the chorus explodes with an energy that could break all the windows, welcomed in by a shimmer of cymbals embodying all the flair of jazz hands. And yet even so, the song is not necessarily happy as it considers the ways relationships change and the sense of loneliness that instability can bring.

This is followed by the equally intoxicating “Lover of Mine” that cinches the band’s place in accessible pop, its upbeat and catchy feel as close to a summer hit as these guys may come. An 80s synth pop and dancey thing, it flows with a, well, dreamy air as pulses punctuate the fog. “Hear my cry/lover of mine” Legrand begs as she stumbles forward, until she belts out a chorus consisting of upward-reaching vocal lines that display endless possibility even in the face of sour subject matter. It doesn’t matter what this song is about, because these moments make you want to leap into the air, arms outstretched to the sun, not caring who might call you a hippie.

Teen Dream sees hope in the face of sadness and beneficial lessons in the wake of pain, but above all it carries the happy feelings brought by good pop. Legrand and Scally’s voice and guitar are unmistakable, and the tunes they craft make ample indulgence for the easily bored while never leaving music’s most accessible genre. One can only hope to wake from those teenage years with their sense of joy intact; Beach House carries emotional weight in their tunes that have the ability to rattle and to haunt, but they appear to have survived the journey.

You might be our age if…

troll dolls

As members of the, er, Millennium generation? Gen Y? I’m not sure what Liz and I are, but surely we are members of some generation. And if you’re in your late 20s and lived in suburban America during your childhood, you know that ours was a very special time, a transitional time. Here are some random memories that you might relate to.

You might be the same age as Liz and Laura if…

-You owned at least one pair of JNCO jeans.

-You used to get a million ‘Free Month of AOL’ CDs in the mail…but you hung on to the first few because CDs were still really cool looking.

-Speaking of AOL, your first experience with the internet was with AOL connected to a slow dial-up modem. It took 20 minutes to check your email and days to download video clips, but dammit, you appreciated those files once you had them.

-You remember when 1-800 numbers were like a company’s website (the closest thing they had, anyway).

-You were around when 90210 and Melrose Place were on the air…both times around.

-You know how to do the Macarena, the Electric Slide, and perhaps the Boot Scootin’ Boogie. You also still remember how to “skank.”

-When you were a kid, long distance calls were expensive enough to get you grounded if you made one without permission.

-You tried to learn how to swing dance in high school and/or late middle school.

-You used to think that burning a music CD was just a faraway dream, like ordering a pizza online (remember when Sandra Bullock did it in The Net? That was essentially sci-fi at the time).

Jurassic Park‘s CGI effects totally blew your mind.

-You went to a spin art booth at the mall and made a “cool” piece of art either on a piece of paper (if you were cheap) or on a t-shirt with your name in the middle. And if you did get that t-shirt, boy, you wore it with pride.

-You knew how to do The Urkel, The Bartman, and any number of other funny dances based on TV characters (back when TV shows had no shame about breaking into a musical number, and when everything had to have a corresponding “Do the _____” dance).

-The only designer label jeans you can remember hearing about in your childhood were Guess jeans, and your parents thought they were a waste of money and that good, sensible people didn’t wear labels.

-You rushed home from school to watch Square One TV, 3-2-1 Contact, and Carmen Sandiego.

-You owned a pager.

-You watched “Captain EO” at Disneyland or Disney World, and on a related note, didn’t think that Michael Jackson was odd at all.

-You dressed up as Madonna or Cyndi Lauper for Halloween at least once.

-Your parents’ first couple of cars didn’t have air conditioning, and when they did get a car with AC, they rarely ran it on full blast, treating it like a thermostat.

-You remember when The Simpsons first aired, and the backlash from angry parents. In fact, your parents probably wouldn’t let you watch it at first.

-You owned multiple slap bracelets, at least one Swatch, and scrunchies in every color.

-Leggings, leg warmers, bodysuits, jellies, skorts, stirrup pants, Hypercolor, oversized t-shirts with those little ring things…I could go on. But you know you wore these things.

-You owned Vanilla Ice’s “To the Extreme” and wore out the cassette liner’s spines memorizing the lyrics.

-You crimped your hair.

-You had an extensive collection of troll dolls.

-You waited until the end of that one Blossom episode to watch the premier of Joey Lawrence’s music video.

-Instead of YouTube, you depended on America’s Funniest Home Videos for your videos of cats falling off things.