According to Merriam-Webster, a dream consists of a series of thoughts, images or emotions occurring during sleep.
It is fitting, then, that Baltimore-based Beach House has been overwhelmingly tagged by the music media as a dream-pop outfit since the guy-girl duo broke onto the scene in 2006 with its self-titled debut.
Perhaps more fitting still is the title of the duo’s latest album — Teen Dream. A colorful confection of shimmering guitars, soaring organ lines and reposeful vocals, the album delivers what its title promises. The album takes listeners through a series of dreams, some more emotionally affecting than others, but it will hardly put you to sleep.
When Maryland-native Alex Scally (guitar, keyboard) and French-born Victoria Legrand (vocals, organ) released Beach House nearly four years ago, it was difficult to imagine where the duo could go from there. Not only did the stellar lo-fi record receive high praise and acclaim, but Legrand’s gauzy vocals paired with the duo’s minimalist, yet infinitely atmospheric instrumentation, was so complete and assured that even as a debut, it left a strong imprint on the indie-rock scene.
In 2008, Beach House outdid itself with Devotion, a richer follow-up that added layers like one would add pastel-colored chiffon to a ball gown. The keyboards and organ were thicker without suffocating the band’s vast dreamscapes, while Legrand’s gutteral vocals felt more resounding than her delicate whispers featured on the group’s debut.
But Teen Dream, the duo’s first album released on Sub Pop Records, certainly marks a career-best for the band — that is, until the release of their next album.
Unlike Beach House’s earlier records, where the songs seeped into one another as if they had no end, each track on Teen Dream exists within its own musical sphere. Like one would experience in the midst of a deep rapid-eye-movement slumber, each song plays as an individual dream, conjuring its own wave of images and sentiments that range from contentment to nostalgia to heartbreak. Although Beach House and Devotion were cohesive in their nine- and 10–song entireties, respectively, Teen Dream is complete with 10 mini-operas, all possessing a solid beginning, middle and end — no thought or melody goes unfinished.
Album opener “Zebra” begins with dizzying synthesizer lines and Legrand’s trademark smoky “oohs.” Beach House doesn’t seem to waste a second on its third record, as “Zebra” provides a powerful rather than subdued lead-in with its orchestral flair that confidently rivals the multi-instrumentation of indie-rock royalty Arcade Fire.
Following “Zebra,” Beach House immediately switches to the languid “Silver Soul,” a ballad that engulfs listeners in a wave of melancholy with a slow-churning melody and lyrics like It’s incomplete without you / The silver soul is running through.
“Norway” is easily Teen Dream’s most pop-infused track with its sunny chorus and back-up “ah-ah-ahs,” while the hook-driven “Better Times” and sweet-sounding “Lover of Mine” showcase the duo’s deft use of percussion and intricate keyboard riffs.
But the true dream-pop gem of Teen Dream is “Real Love,” which surprises long after the album’s midpoint. A lesson in expressive songwriting, “Real Love” utilizes Beach House’s previous lo-fi atmospheric charm but refines it, restraining the whirling guitar and tinkling percussion and returning to that sparse yet infinite space the duo explored on its debut.
More than any other song on Teen Dream, “Real Love” stirs with each line. Beginning with nothing but a pounding piano, “Real Love” highlights the mournful Legrand, whose voice fluctuates from soulful breaths to shadowy wails on lines like I met you somewhere in a hell beneath the stairs / There’s someone in that room that frightens you when they go boom, boom, boom.
Following the elegiac “Real Love” is album closer “Take Care,” which ensures Teen Dream ends on a brighter, more buoyant note. Legrand’s throaty intonation rises over the grand instrumentation like a one-woman gospel choir, and the organ continues to heighten until the record’s very last note.
Packaged as a two-disc deal, Teen Dream also features a DVD composed of music videos for each track. Although the videos are a pleasant touch, the vast soundscapes Beach House creates is enough of a visceral experience to intoxicate even the most stoic realist.