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.