They may just have minted the new decade’s first essential album.
David Sheppard 2010-01-21
Beach House singer Victoria Legrand must be bored rigid with reviewers continually mentioning that her music sounds like the ethereal lovechild of gauzy indie forebears Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star. Granted, reiterating the platitude won’t help, but consider this a valediction; a way of drawing a line in the sand outside the Beach House of old, perhaps. For this, the third album from the Baltimore-based duo – singer/keyboardist Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally – proffers a bold evolution in sound and compositional ambition that renders comparison with those touchstones of yore immaterial.
Indeed, Teen Dream almost entirely eschews the junkshop drum machine-meets-indie chanteuse fragility of the duo’s eponymous 2006 debut and its even drowsier follow-up, Devotion, from 2008, in favour of vigorous, hymnal pop essays that gleam like polished chrome. The upgrade manifests as soon as Legrand opens her mouth to sing. She’s either been on the French fags and absinthe, or simply had a touch of the rheum when the vocals were recorded (as was the entire album), in an isolated, upstate New York church. Her new-found Marianne Faithfull rasp is as unexpected as it is compelling, the rawer tones lending these ten songs, of often rather opaque meaning, a smouldering, hungover sensuousness that remains intimate, even as the music swells to grand dimensions.
For all that, it’s Alex Scally’s plangent electric guitar figures that first impress. Opener Zebra slaloms to life on a loping, vertiginous riff that keeps sliding sideways when you think you know where it’s going. Over it, Legrand’s vocals ooze like molasses before rising imperiously to deliver a swooning chorus hook-line, about the titular “black and white horse”, that Bat for Lashes would kill for. Norway proffers more glinting guitars, woozy keyboards and soaring melodies – Legrand’s descants summoning the same numinous American Gothic mystery beloved of Fleet Foxes – while redemptive closer Take Care begins with harpsichord filigrees and puttering drum boxes before burgeoning into a delirious, see-sawing anthem to human companionship.
The most unmistakeable sound on Teen Dream is that of a band truly finding its own voice. In so doing, they may just have minted the new decade’s first essential album.