#12. Beach House – Teen Dream
I gave Beach House’s Devotion a cursory listen when it came out back in 2008, found it rather boring, and quickly dismissed it – so quickly, in fact, that I forgot what they sounded like altogether. This explains why when I first heard “Zebra”, the opening track from last year’s Teen Dream, I thought it was a man singing in a James Mercer-esque register. Even when I realized the band was Beach House, I didn’t know the voice I was hearing belonged to singer Victoria Legrand – after all, I hadn’t even cared enough about them the first time around to remember that they had a female vocalist.
Admittedly, I didn’t really fall in love with “Zebra” on first listen, so I didn’t have any reason to investigate much more of the album. It wasn’t until I watch the duo’s performance on spinner.com’s The Interface series that I realized my aural misunderstanding. It’s truly amazing how much a band’s sound can change when you realize that your assumptions were wrong – particularly when you realize you had the vocalist’s gender mistaken all along. Beach House sounded – and looked – like a totally new band to me. I had no idea they were even a duo, yet there was Legrand playing a soft synth set atop a dusty organ, and Alex Scally picking out his spacious guitar arpeggiations while tapping out basslines with a digital organ footpedal. Surprise gave way to interest, and with that, I decided to give Teen Dreamanother chance.
It didn’t hurt that I had all of last year to let this album in. There were many initial listens where I didn’t really pay attention. Songs often came and went in shuffle without me taking much notice. My aloofness didn’t keep Teen Dream from gradually seeping in, however. Legrand’s smoky vocals released melodic apparitions, appearing in my head out of nowhere, leaving me to rack my brain trying to remember who sings that song. “In a matter of time \ it would slip from my mind \ in and out of my life \ you would slip from my mind”.
And they did – slip from my mind, that is. As the “*NEW*” smart playlist in my iTunes became more and more cluttered with 2010 music to parse, Beach House became the band I liked but never remembered, until their songs came around in shuffle again. Finally, I took the next step in my relationship with the band, and the album: I started listening to Teen Dream from start to finish.
This step coincided with my first-ever trip to LA last Spring. I started listening on the flight, but the subtle rocking of the plane and sun shining in the window did me in, and I soon dozed off to the woozy warmth of the organ and reverberating plucks of guitar. It is an incredibly peaceful and serene album, but I had already made the mistake of equating those qualities with blandness once – I was determined not to let Beach House just turn into sleepytime music (although, that’s always good to have… I recommend Broken Social Scene’s Feel Good Lost for tasty doze-jams). My next attempt at an attentive listen during the trip was poolside at my brother-and-sister-in-law’s apartment. Again, a totally blissed-out blend, but not conducive for a focused assessment, as the dichotomy of splashing around like a little kid and sacking out on a lounge chair did not allow for much analysis.
The LA trip, while the perfect opportunity to exercise Beach House as a sonic backdrop, didn’t result in my coming to a final verdict. Eventually, I found the moments… on headphones at work, during long sunny drives, around the house on weekend afternoons. I began to grow a reverence for the serenity of the record, as it always seemed to amplify the existing luminance around me. It made my mundane world feel momentarily majestic. Songs like “10 Mile Stereo” seemed poised to sweep everything skyward on a vaporous organ swell and shuffle beat, while the sparsely spacious “Real Love” stirred emotion seemingly out of thin air. Teen Dream, as an album, simply emits the kind of enchanting aura that makes you simultaneously assign magnitude and perspective to your concrete surroundings – for such an airy record, it’s nearly impossible to take lightly. At the same time, it’s in no way a solemn outing – far from it. Teen Dream is comforting, rich and golden, bathed in light. As Legrand sings in the title track: “You know you’re gold, you don’t gotta worry none.” On the album closer, “Take Care”, she adds: “I’d take care of you if you’d ask me to”.
Don’t mistake my effusive affection for this record as music-nerd hyperventaling – it was a long road and a labor of love. I am, as a rule, just short of allergic to slow-burning music. My attention span has worn down with every passing year, and I am often forced to be quick with the hook on many a record, admittedly for better or worse. Yet thank God Beach House released Teen Dream back in January of last year, as I had all year to let the beauty of it wear on me like an ocean tide. Had it been released later in the year, it likely would have been literally lost in the shuffle, and I would have never given it the undivided attention it so very much deserves. Maybe I wasn’t ready to devote myself to Beach House when they were awkwardly professing their Devotion, but I’m glad I let myself drift off into the gorgeous warmth and elegance of Teen Dream.