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Beach House's new CD a true 'dream'

Jan. 26, 2010

By James Byers

If Kappa Kappa Gamma allowed Beach House's new album "Teen Dream" to enter the Baylor Beauty Style Show, it would instantly become the prohibitive favorite.

The Baltimore dream pop duo's third studio album is out today, and it sounds absolutely gorgeous. "Teen Dream" overflows with delicate sonic subtleties and beautiful melodies that will likely help the band become the latest indie act to achieve mainstream success.

To understand why "Teen Dream" is so revelatory, it's best to review Beach House's first two albums, 2006's self-titled release and 2008's "Devotion." Both albums follow a similar formula. Victoria Legrand's haunting vocals are complimented by Alex Scally's colorful guitar textures and a healthy amount of organs and keyboards. The music is slow and dreamy, yet there's little variation between songs. Despite that drawback, it's always apparent that Beach House is capable of big things.

On "Teen Dream," the band takes a significant leap forward. The sound of the first two albums is fleshed out, and each song has a soul all its own. In the third album, everything moves a little faster. "Used to Be" exemplifies this change. Released as a single in 2008, the song was reworked for "Teen Dream" and now sounds much more confident and fully developed. Clearly, the band spent the last two years addressing its weaknesses and perfecting its strengths.

Like all great-sounding albums, details begin to reveal themselves after repeat listens. "Silver Soul," an already stunning swirl of reverb-laden guitar, is enhanced by Scally's soft, chant-like background vocals. "Norway" opens with 15 seconds of buzzing noise before yielding to Scally's glittering guitar line and Legrand's breathy vocals, one of the album's most exhilarating moments. "Better Times" is the sun-soaked ballad that will have you longing for spring break.

"Walk in the Park" best summarizes the opposing themes of regret and hope that dominate the album: "The face that you see in the door/isn't standing there anymore," Legrand sings, before she concludes, on a happier note,

"In a matter of time/it would slip from my mind." She may be lovesick, but she maintains an attitude of youthful optimism that gives the album its name.

While Scally's arrangements hold the songs together, Legrand's voice is an instrument in its own respect. She's not a spectacular singer in the sense of hitting absurdly high notes; her voice has a warm, almost husky quality that's perfectly suited to Beach House's brand of nostalgia-tinged pop.

Don't be fooled, she can belt when she wants to, as on "10 Mile Stereo," a standout that features a soaring synth line and Legrand's most emphatic vocal display.

Last week, Vampire Weekend's album "Contra" was the best-selling album in America, proving that small label bands can compete with the corporate giants. "Teen Dream" doesn't have quite the buzz to make that kind of a splash on the charts, but it's so good that Beach House's next album just might.

Grade: A