Beach House avoid the literal
“The abstract has been very good to us.” I am communicating via e-mail with the two members of Baltimore’s dreamy pop choir Beach House, and to be honest, I don’t know which one of them made that statement. But since the sentence was printed rather than spoken, I was able to stare at it and think about it for a bit. The band are trying to explain the origin of the title of their new Teen Dream (Sub Pop) — or, more accurately, to dispel the notion that the album is about any actual teen dream. “The title has no literal imposition on the album, it was evoked as spontaneously as one decides to put whipped cream on a hot-fudge sundae. Like looking at a painting in a museum and feeling the vibrations from it, and then walking over and seeing the title. Things can make sense without having to be so direct.”
IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME: Beach House’s music isn’t so a sad pop song as it is a blurry, sweet associative memory.
So true — and is there a better summation of Beach House? Teen Dream is their third long-player since they formed in Baltimore in 2004, and in the years between, they’ve attracted a growing cult to their peculiar brand of music — a beguilingly patient and hypnotic variation that distinguishes them from other “dream-pop” bands. In their early press clippings, descriptions like “languid” and “sleepy” turn up, but that’s misleading — their tunes are nothing if not deliberate, even as they move at a patient pace through a delicate mist of phantasmagorical yearnings and soft-focus images.
“We don’t think about everything so much — ours is very much an intuitive process based on feeling and obsession.” This is keyboardist/vocalist Victoria Legrand, and during the course of our e-conversation, she will return to the idea of not overthinking. Perhaps it has to do with the music’s intuitive interface of melancholy and inspiration. Or maybe the serendipity of the duo’s meeting. “I started writing songs when I was 18, but I was always waiting for true inspiration. Meeting Alex was extremely . . . fateful.”
It was fateful for guitarist/vocalist Alex Scally, as well. He’s an adept but unconventional player, and it’s hard to picture his fluid runs and aching slide work fitting in anywhere else. “If my playing has evolved over the years, I’m not sure if it’s been for the better,” he quips, “but the key part of our music is composing together.” Victoria concurs: “We are a yin yang for the most part — except when we’re not getting along.”
Teen Dream was recorded in a converted church/studio called Dreamland (natch) outside Woodstock, New York, and it represents not so much a departure as a marked progression. A cursory listen might give you the impression it’s a concept album dedicated to the journal entries of a poetic teenager. Yet the songs are anything but adolescent — they’re full of mature observational details. The standouts “Silver Soul” and “Real Love” are wistfully romantic, foregrounding both swooning joy and bittersweet regret. “Walk in the Park” is typical: funereal and aching the first time you spin it, but by the 10th or 20th listen, its juxtaposition of calliope chops and graceful chorus fades makes it feel less like a sad pop song and more like a blurry associative memory, a conjuring of the sweetest of fleeting moments lost to time.
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