Baltimore duo Beach House revels in large, lush sonic compositions. The pair joins a select handful of bands in the postrock era — Cocteau Twins, Galaxie 500, Mazzy Star — that expertly render shimmering sounds with equal parts confidence and mystery. Now on its third album and first for Sub Pop, Teen Dream, Beach House has expanded its music exponentially, adding detailed arrangements to its elegant piano, organ and guitar textures.
Singer Victoria Legrand's delivery is more direct and exuberant compared to her restrained musings on Beach House's self-titled 2006 debut and its 2008 breakthrough, Devotion. Similarly, guitar player Alex Scally's notes are layered and interwoven with dramatically shifting melodies. The songs are more multidimensional, too, shedding their mostly waltz tempos for varied rhythms and increasingly pop-oriented structures.
Core fans shouldn't fret, since the music is still dark and challenging, and Legrand's singing retains its Patsy-Cline-meets-Kate-Bush retro charm. But the band's vision is bigger on all fronts.
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Legrand and Scally place a high premium on their art, which has led to some dramatic accomplishments. The duo recorded Teen Dream with Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Blonde Redhead), and produced a DVD with videos for each song. The clips range from impressionistic to narrative, and add to the album's expansive persona.
The band invited its creative friends to visually interpret its songs. "They're not traditional music videos; to us they're art," Legrand says. Teen Dream, the singer adds, "has a very wide spectrum of emotions, dynamics, movements and rhythms, and this DVD has similar visual reach."
Taken as a whole, Teen Dream's songs and visuals feel like an emotional exorcism, with both good and bad sentiments flowing freely. "Real Love" is a melodically dense number with equally intense vocals. "Zebra" has a galloping rhythm to match its title, with Legrand singing, "Anywhere you run, you run before us, black and white horse, arching among us."
The hazy, dark ballad "Silver Soul" recalls Devotion's syrupy shoegaze tempos. But "Better Times," "Used to Be" and "Lover of Mine" incorporate Americana, '60s girl-group aesthetics and dark pop qualities that bring to mind Bruce Springsteen, the Ronettes, Stevie Nicks and Siouxsie Sioux.
So how did they arrive at this strange artistic intersection?
Legrand says their compositional process is based on intuition over intellectualism. "In the beginning, it's all about raw emotion and melody," she explains. "I think when you follow those very natural feelings, you find yourself in unexpected places."
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So far, fans and critics have embraced Beach House's broadened concepts, with several of its European shows sold out and positive reviews across the board for Teen Dream. But for all the bigness, Legrand and Scally remain humble.
"We didn't expect anything," she says. "When we were making it, we didn't know what would happen. It's great that there's excitement for [the album]; it makes it fun for us to go out into the world and perform for people."
Beach House has gracefully expanded the art of dream pop. Legrand says she's excited about continuing to challenge the duo's creative process with the same energy and verve of her hometown, calling Baltimore a resilient city with a lot of pizzazz.
For its part, Beach House complements the landscape well.