I really want to love Teen Dream. Don’t get me wrong, I like the album. I like it a lot. I’m a big Beach House fan. I think that nobody does dream pop as well as they do. But I don’t love it. I don’t want to listen to it on repeat all day (this kind of happens when I love an album). But then again, I don’t love many albums. And I may learn to love it eventually. But I really want to get this review out in the public, and it was supposed to come out Monday, but I felt like I needed more time to consider the album. And I feel like I’ve got a good enough feel for the album to say some words about it. So here we go.
Teen Dream is an album that, first and foremost, rewards multiple listens. At first listen, a lot of the songs fail to differentiate themselves, but once you become familiar with the material, the songs become much better. So much of what Beach House do as a band relies on atmospherics to create a hazy, lush, almost-but-not-quite-dark mood, and Teen Dream is the best example of this in their catalog. See “Better Times”. By no means one of the best songs off the album. But one that expertly and effectively creates mood, the kind of mood that reminds you of lazy summer days. Or look at “Real Love.” The minimalist instrumentation brings Victoria Legrand’s singing into focus, and the longing in her voice leads to a stunning song. The instrumentation in general is stellar, especially Alex Scally’s guitar playing, providing enough support where they don’t have to rely on Victoria Legrand’s singing, but also not taking the focus away from Legrand. Take “Silver Soul,” where Scally’s lazy guitar line compliments Legrand’s singing, both slow, both seeming to stretch on to infinity, both magnificent. Or “Lover of Mine,” which relies on Legrand’s keyboard playing to provide a gloomy and chilling undertone that sends shivers down you back.
Not that Teen Dream is without its complaints. Legrand’s vocals on Teen Dream aren’t as solid as they were on Devotion, Beach House’s 2008 album. Some of this can be blamed on production – on Devotion, there was an more of an echo effect than on Teen Dream, and that echo effect added to the atmospherics of the songs in general. In Devotion, that echo was played to be haunting. On Teen Dream, without the echo, the songs don’t have quite as dark of a demeanor. Another issue is that, although there isn’t a bad song on the album, there also isn’t a song that blows you away. “10 Mile Stereo” comes close, but doesn’t quite get there. The when the chorus kicks in at about a minute and a half is purely radiant, and it builds slowly throughout the song, but it seems like Beach House don’t devote themselves to making this song all it could be.
The Internet seems to want to shape early 2010 to be Teen Dream vs Odd Blood, much like how 2009 essentially became Merriweather Post Pavilion vs Veckatimest. That comparison is unfair, not only because there’s a bunch of other really good albums coming out, but because these two albums are pretty much incomparable. Teen Dream is insular while Odd Blood is dynamic. Teen Dream is minimal while Odd Blood is definitely not. Teen Dream is an album that lingers in you, while Odd Blood exists in the here and now. Teen Dream is an excellent album, maybe one of the better ones I’ve heard in a long time. But to start throwing around your “>” before 2010 has even started is a bit ridiculous.