Bella Union, 2010

Beach House tends to be one of those acts that straddle a strange line between gorgeous and boring. Their music is lush and pretty, but as their dream pop sub-genre indicates, it can be wispy and (sometimes) downright tiring. This is the reason that, up until this point, I’ve steered clear of the group. No denying the band’s talent for a beautiful song, it’s just they were never compelling enough for me.

Ironically enough, it’s these hushed lullabies that have drawn me in to their latest album, Teen Dream, as it seems they’ve finally discovered an acceptable balance of minimalism and melody. The music here gets-to-the-point much more quickly than previous albums; there’s noticeably less reverb and a lot more clearly-defined structure to the tunes. The standard Beach House ethereal vocals, guitars and synths are still in play, but add more than detract, and at times sound greater than the sum of their parts.

Despite its winter release date, this is music that fits perfectly during the spring time. Each track seems to be shifting and changing, reaching for the sky, and almost blooming, right before the listeners’ ears. “Zebra” opens the album like stretching after a lazy afternoon nap, with an echoing guitar and airy background vocals unfolding and expanding right into the chorus. It’s demonstrative from the beginning that the album has an almost mathematical quality to its music, there’s not a note out of place; Victoria Legrand’s deep, classical vocals add to its timelessness, while Alex Scally has never blended everything together so well.

Several of the songs really show how far this simplistic formula has taken the band: “Walk in the Park” could literally soundtrack a proper walk in the park with light percussion and Hammond chords assisting heartfelt, somber lyrics like, “You go for a walk in the park ’cause you don’t need anything/Your hand that you sometimes hold doesn’t do anything/The face that you see in the door isn’t standing there anymore”. It’s sadly introspective, but there’s lots of hope in the way the music builds higher and higher and finally drifts away into silence. “Real Love” ends the album similarly, melancholy drenched with the bittersweetness of the protagonist’s words, “Real love, it finds you somewhere with your back to it,” and a concert piano plus tambourine.

Teen Dream isn’t going to be everyone’s favorite, it takes the right mood to really enjoy it, and no one will be cranking it in their cars with the windows down, but the beauty here is unmistakable. It’s the result of several years of tweaking a musical blueprint that has finally paid off, and where they go from here is really up to the next evolution in their musical journey. In the meantime, enjoy the present, and a very fine art-house record.