So if any of you know me at all, you know that my favorite album of 2010 was hands-down, without a doubt, no contest: Teen Dream by Beach House.
Before Teen Dream, Beach House meant, to me: mellow, sleepy, thick. I really liked Devotion and Beach House but they didn't particularly speak to me. I've never been one for more lo-fi sounds and with Animal Collective and Radiohead making music at the same time as Beach House and Devotion, I just wasn't into more sleepy sounds.
It was around this time last year that I heard about the new Beach House album leaking. I really try to stay away from leaks, especially of bands I really like. To me, possibly sacrificing quality and the intended finished product for sake of getting music sooner isn't worth it (the exception to this was the grand Christmas 2008 leak of Merriweather Post Pavilion because who am I to ignore a Christmas miracle?). My friends don't feel the same way about album leaks and I was slowly being repeatedly told how good Teen Dream was. I listened to "Norway," which was on Beach House's website. I was completely blown away. And I grabbed the leak immediately. I also bought the album the week it came out, which, as I suspected, was on a completely different level. Aside from the accompanying DVD of music videos, which added a whole other layer of interpretation, the quality of the actual album was so much better than the leak. I didn't even think the quality of the leak (a vinyl rip) was bad until I heard how it was intended to be heard.
Teen Dream, though only 10 tracks, is too big and vast in its perfection and my love for it to do it justice just talking about the album in a general way. So this is something I never do; that is, break the album down by song.
By the time the chorus is finished, Franz's percussion comes boldly sweeping in. At this point it sounds less like the vocals are being supported by guitar and percussion and more like the three are coming at you at once. But all of the elements are still very simple and clear, making it just sound stronger, not chaotic. The sound gets stronger and stronger through the second chorus until there's a beautiful moment where the drums drop out and it's just Scally's guitar and Legrand's voice and very subtle percussion. But as Legrand sings the last vocals of the song, "among us," Franz's drumming again builds up from the background to carry the song with Scally's guitar and Legrand's keyboard until the end.
- "Silver Soul"
This true for a lot of songs, especially Beach House songs, but listening to "Silver Soul" on headphones is totally otherworldly. I can do it over and over again (and have, and will). Which, coincidentally, is not something I've done since I was a teenager.
Legrand's lyrics have such great imagery without being too concrete. Not that I have anything against super straightforward lyrics . . . that's one of the main things I love about Panda Bear's songs. But Legrand's lyrics let you follow along with her, but she's barely holding your hand the entire time, your fingers are barely touching, so you're having your own entire experience:
The bodies lying in the sand,Also, I don't know anything about guitars. So I can't say for sure what it is about Scally's guitar in "Silver Soul" that gets me. It just rips. It's totally sexy and powerful without overpowering any other elements of the song. There are times when I listen to "Silver Soul" that I just completely focus on the guitar sounds. It makes the song move faster than it does normally and totally underlines the steaming sexuality of "Silver Soul." And I'm not kidding when I say steaming sexuality. When you really listen to it, to the breathy vocals, to the full-on powerful guitar, to the delicate keys, to the light but insistent drums pounding, to the vocals with words like "the silver soul is running through," "it gathers heat without you," and the ever-present "it is happening again," . . . I think to say the song is about sex doesn't give it enough credit. It's about sexuality, sensuality, movement, heat.
They're moving in the dark
It is so quick to get us in,
Feel it moving through our skin
It's a sickness,
Infinite quickness, yea
In a lot of ways, Teen Dream itself is arguably a very sexual album. But its sexuality is not overt (no lyrical mention of sex or sexuality or any other slang version) while at the same time is, when it's present, is all-consuming. "Silver Soul" is the first really powerful suggestion of this sexuality, which will be really heightened by the time "10 Mile Stereo" comes along.
But sexuality aside, "Silver Soul" is such a great example of how far Beach House has come as a band: in terms of instrumentation and production, it's much more advanced than songs on Beach House and Devotion.
We were sleeping 'til
You came along,
With your tiny heart
You led us in the wooden
To share in all the wealth
Scally's guitar whines behind her and by the time Legrand repeats "Norway," it seems oddly fitting: there's nothing in "Norway" that directly cites the country but, as an American who has never been to Norway (or out of the country at all, except to England), it matches perfectly this vision of Norway as a snowy, otherworldly place, possibly inhabited by gnomes or something.
But "Norway" is sensual, too . . . you can just hear how Scally's and Legrand's fingers are dancing over the strings and keys of their instruments. And you can also hear the song's heartbeat in Franz's drums. When Legrand sings "Where you thinking that you're gonna run to now, with the beating of a tiny heart," it's as if she's giving Franz a little shout out as well as an urge to keep going because she knows we are not going anymore, not in the song, not in the album.
Legrand's ultra-feminine breathing that backs up the chorus is a perfect display of her power as a vocalist. You can have her womanly sounds (which nearly sounds like moaning), but she's not a little woman there to breathe in your ear. Legrand is no doubt a talented organist but her most powerful, and most personal, tool is her voice, especially when she yells out "Norway" amidst some drum bashing and guitar strumming and still takes the lead of all the sounds.
- "Walk in the Park"
"Walk in the Park" is also another really great showcase of Scally's guitar. It's deep in the beginning, bass-y even. Paired with Legrand's deep opening vocals, it's a classic build-up to the chorus, which sees Legrand's voice going higher and Scally's guitar getting higher, too, and more complicated. Her voice and his guitar have always been the hand-in-hand driving force of Beach House and here you see just how well they support each other.
"Walk in the Park" really shows Beach House as a pop band. I don't mean "pop" as a negative here, as it so often tends to be with more "indie" bands. The way Scally's guitar and Legrand's voice descend back after the first chorus and ascend when the chorus comes again is so classic sounding. It has distinct parts, which can easily be a bad or boring thing, but of course, this is Beach House, so it's not anything but awesome and beautiful.
I think one of the things that makes "Walk in the Park" so good (besides everything else I already said) are the last repeating lines:
More . . .Which repeat over and over until the end. But really it's just the words that repeat: Legrand does not sing it the exact same way each time and Scally's guitar, again, changes along with her voice. The feeling in her voice changes too: calm, absolute, insisting, almost angry, powerful. Describing the end this way makes it sound completely schizophrenic. But again, this is Beach House. The changes in the way she sings each repeat are super subtle and it's really one of the nuggets of brilliance you find after multiple and close listenings. And the end of the song is fitting, for the beginning: a classic fadeout. Not only is this another pop song signal, but hearing Legrand's voice fade out slowly reminds you of the gentleness of the band you're listening to.
You want more . . .
You tell me,
More only time can run me
- "Used to Be"
You are coming home,Each syllable she sings is enhanced by a key she's pressing, which makes her words sound even more like crystal or glass. And when more sounds are added (percussion, back-up vocals), they are done so softly. It's a "Zebra"-like layering of delicate sounds, which Beach House has done so well in the past with Beach House and Devotion. And as the first chorus ends comes the build-up that Beach House is also so good at: Daniel Franz's drums come up again, from the darkness somewhere in the background, Legrand's voice gets stronger, the overall sound of the song gets fuller.
Are you still alone,
Are you not the same as you used to be
I want to devote some space to the vocals after the second chorus, the repetition of "Coming home any day now." I'm not about to compare my own singing voice to that of Legrand's but I can say this: it physically hurts me to sing this part. I'm a 22 year old girl who sang soprano in choir and I can't come close. And yes, she has a naturally beautiful voice (unlike me) and years of training (unlike me) but it just totally blows my mind that her voice can do this. It is so high and feminine she sounds like a fairy singing. This is also another factor in my initial belief that Alex Scally was the main singer: I thought Scally sang the main vocals and then Legrand came in for parts like this one. Because surely someone can't sing so high and so low so equally beautifully. But it's in a section like this how apparent it is that this isn't someone: Victoria Legrand isn't some singer, Beach House isn't some band. If she was and they were, moments like this wouldn't exist. And I can also say, from my own first-hand account, that moments like these are replicated so beautifully and flawlessly live that it's hard to not feel compelled to bow down at Scally and Legrand's feet.
- "Lover of Mine"
A lot of sounds open "Lover of Mine" and they continue to add onto each other until Legrand's vocals come in and the other sounds step back slightly. The beginning of the lyrics add to the cohesiveness of Teen Dream:
You hear my cry
Lover of mine
No tear in the eye or
Fear in my mind
The forest is thick
And we don't recognize
We parted our lips and
We reached from inside
You've got this imagery, this sexuality, this woodland-ness that the vocals of the past five songs have touched on.
I also think Legrand's voice does something cool with these lyrics:
In a wide open fieldWhen she sings these lines, "field," "feel," and "unreal" sound almost identical, making the lines sort of meld together. The following, repeated line, "Off to nowhere," is more distinct, but is supported by back-up vocals from Scally. I wouldn't expect Beach House to have a song called "Lover of Mine" without sounds and feelings joining together and whirling around. Even when the sound is from a single source (like Legrand's voice) . . . because, after all, no one says a lover has to be someone else besides yourself (though, the lines "Need more people to be satisfied" might suggest that this lone-love is not optimal).
We know we can feel
Awake and unreal
The name Teen Dream is abstract (unlike other similarly-titled albums that were released this year . . . don't even get me started on that) but at the same time so concrete, especially for those of us who were a teen not too long ago (four years for me). But Legrand and Scally aren't old . . . 10 years ago they were both teenagers, too. Ten years is a really good amount of time to provide perspective without clouding memories. To me, "Lover of Mine" might be the best illustration of the idea of a teen dream:
The only thing you've gotIf you're a lonely teenager and all you've got is this dream of a lover you don't have but cry out for . . . when you look back at it, those terrible, soul-engulfing crushes, they might be embarrassing if for no other reason than their pointlessness. You might even be inclined to realize you're better off without it. Analyzing lyrics, especially ones like this, is sort of silly and don't do the songs justice, in my opinion. But I just can't help, after so many listens, to think about this kind of stuff.
You know you're
Better off without it
- "Better Times"
to me are a nice, subtle continuation of the thoughts behind "Lover of Mine," as the lover in "Better Times" is real, part of the story. Not a teenage obsession, but a relationship that comes out of more maturity. Which I think is a sure mark of better times, in general.
I don't want to know
I don't want to know
We don't need the sign
To know of
There's a really nice part when Legrand repeats this verse:
Running around cause you beat yourself upand the music sort of pauses (but not completely) a little to let Legrand's voice be undoubtedly front-and-center. And, like any other repeated lines in any other Beach House song, there's nothing identical or over-processed sounding. The second time she sings the lines sounds even fuller and more mature than the first time. Plus she says "fire" like fiyah and "liar" like lie, which, with a voice like her's, sounds awesome.
And you made a crack
And the one that you love is gone
How much longer can you play with fire
Before you turn into a liar
AND THEN we come to one of my favorite little moments on all of Teen Dream. After "lie," Legrand breathes "huh" and "oh" and then there's a pause. She stops singing but the music doesn't stop completely; it's the same sound here that opens "Better Times" and it's alone for just a couple of seconds before all of the other sounds we've heard in the song AND THEN SOME come back at you along with Legrand belting a long, raw, "I" to begin "I've been around before." It's a really small moment and hard to describe in words, but it's beautiful, goosebump-inducing stuff. My car used to have extra sensitive windshield wipers; the slightest bump in the road could send them off on full-blast. I can't tell you how many times, when Legrand's voice and the rest of the music came bursting out that I would involuntarily bang the palm of my hand against my steering wheel in time with the music and set off my windshield wipers, and startle myself every time.
And one last thing: I defy to find someone that sings the word "smoke" more awesomely and sexily than Victoria Legrand in the last verse of "Better Times."
- "10 Mile Stereo"
The beginning lyrics contain two challenges:
They say we will go farfollowed later by
But they don't know how far
They say we can throw farI think it would be really easy to equate "they" with "critics" and "we" with "Beach House," which I think is an oversimplification but might not be entirely off the mark. By the end of the second challenge Legrand poses to her listeners there's still over four minutes left in the song. To me, more than anything, it's the sense of a challenge that comes with these words that are most powerful and rather than imagining it as Legrand saying "Beach House will be around for a long time," I think it has much more of an immediate effect of "check this shit out." Especially since the sounds build more and more with each line that she sings. Like I've said before, Beach House is not about in-your-face music. They're not going to push you into anything. They're building you up slowly, like the good lovers that they are.
But they don't know how far
The first time Legrand sings the chorus, it's not quite as grand and expansive as you might expect. She sings it rather softly, for a chorus, and clearly. But by now you should know that just because Legrand sings something one way now, doesn't mean it's going to be same next time she sings it. And the more complex-sounding guitar and keys that follow afterward further suggest to the buildup, as does the line "In the heat of a night, We would cry, You are not mine."
The second chorus comes with the music bumping faster behind Legrand, who draws the words out a little more this time, which really allows her voice to fill the sound. And here a line from the first chorus, "Tear a moment from the days, That carry us on," is changed to "Bright pyramids at night, That carry us on." I just want to say here how beautiful and amazing it is to hear Legrand belt (and she does belt) that line live on the Teen Dream tour with their stage set-up. Though the stage changed throughout the tour there were ever-present pyramidal shapes that stood bright against the usually-dark, usually-nighttime stage.
It's the second and third chorus that the whole climactic feeling is really present, as both choruses are back-to-back. Legrand does not hold back at all when she's singing the third chorus, and neither does Scally or Franz, Scally's guitar sliding back and forth along Legrand's voice and Franz punctuating her words with cymbal crashes. And when she ends the chorus (and the song) with the new lines "Love's like a pantheon, It carries on forever," I can't help but think not of an architectural dome but of the pulsating orgasm that Legrand's voice is emulating here, which not only does not sound like it will end, but you don't want it to end.
But of course, Beach House is not going to just cut you off. Her voice fades out slowly, the instruments scale back, and the song ends in a glittery afterglow. Oh, and also, the album's not even done!
- "Real Love"
But the opening sounds of Beach House's "Real Love" are a different story. And for good reason: after what you've just experienced with "10 Mile Stereo" an upbeat love song wouldn't feel right. You know right away that you'll still be coming down with "Real Love" with the deep, dark, opening piano and the faint sounds of what sounds like clacking crystal in the back. There's some very light percussion in the background, but the beginning is very much just Victoria Legrand and her keyboard. Her voice is, I think, the most soulful it's ever been here and still without being overbearing. And when she sings, "There's someone in that room, That frightens you when they go boom," she does it with such care that she sounds nearly heartbreakingly nurturing, even when she goes on to repeat that frightening "boom."
And you know, the real beauty in Victoria Legrand's voice is her ability to juxtapose such different sounds seamlessly, and to do so both on record and live. When she sings the line, "The color you say is black," it's almost indescribable how she enunciates "black." But it is big and it is powerful and it totally emphasizes the darkness of "Real Love." But she immediately follows it with such a gentle, almost cracking, "Is the one you might lack." Her voice is not scary or diva-ish or even entirely sad (though there are touches of that here) but it's instead just lying in bed with you, trying to discuss your relationship in that emotional, post-sex time (this song does follow "10 Mile Stereo," remember).
There's also a moment (which happens twice, actually) in "Real Love" that is another one of my favorites on Teen Dream because it highlights my love for the English language. I would argue that my confusing "horse" with "whores" in "Zebra" is another instance of this, but that was unintentional, so it sort of doesn't count. What I'm talking about it Legrand repeating "I met you." First she says "I metchu." Then she says, very clearly, "I met you." I can't quite place what it is I love about this. It sounds like something that comes out of a serious talk: she says it once conversationally, blending the words together. But then the repeats it, more distinctly, more profoundly, more seriously. That, followed with a few painful "oh"s, some more sound coming in from both Scally and Franz, and the lines that follow:
There's something wrong with our heartsbrings out the sadness in Legrand's voice, the likes of which haven't really been shown until now, and I'm including in that Beach House and Devotion. This continues with the lines:
When they beat pure they stand apart
Real loveThis is certainly not the "Real Love" of The Beatles, who sang:
It finds you somewhere
With your back to it
No need to be aloneAre you getting really sad?? Hold on! After the second pair of "I met you" and "oh," the tone of the song shifts. The piano gets lighter and higher and some lighter percussion comes in. Legrand ends the song with the lines
It's real love, it's real,
Yes it's real love, it's real
You know, you know,repeated a couple of times. Though not identical and not necessarily related, the lines "We belong by the stream to the dawn," ties back, at least in feeling if not in a little bit of the imagery, to the lines "With our legs on the edge, And our feet on the horizon," in "10 Mile Stereo." "Real Love" is not a breakup song. It might be a "serious talk" song or a "relationship evaluation" song, but it's not over. And neither is Teen Dream . . .
By the stream,
To the dawn
- "Take Care"
Stand beside it,In fact, I would argue that "Take Care" is all about reassurance. Not necessarily in a super concrete way, though it does have Legrand repeating "I'll take care of you," and it's hard to feel troubled with that being sung into your ears.
We can hide the way
It makes us glow,
It's no good unless it grows,
Feel this burning
Love of mine
There is a sense of longing here as, as always, Beach House is not about to force you into anything: "I'll take care of you, If you ask me to." Beach House is here for you, you know. And I'm sure to say Beach House here rather than just Victoria Legrand because while "Real Love" was very much centered on her voice and her keyboard, "Take Care" has that familiar full-band feel that is not so much supporting Legrand's voice but, as they've done before, strolling along side her.
If I had to use one word to describe "Take Care" it would be: nice. Especially as the song winds down and Legrand adds the further reassurance:
I'll take care of youAnd it is true. "Take Care" is the longest song on Teen Dream because Beach House has just shared this beautiful experience with you and they're not just going to turn you loose. They're going to let you go gently. With each repeat of Legrand's voice and Scally's guitar and Franz's drums reminding you that they'll take care of you, Beach House, which has been holding your hand with varying degrees of pressure for the past forty or so minutes, is giving you a soft pat on the hand. "Take Care" is like lovers saying goodbye after spending a night together: it's over, but it's not the end.
Take care of you
Take care of you
If you immediately begin Teen Dream again after listening to it, it's beautiful how "Take Care" works into "Zebra." It's almost like a mathematical formula: "Love's like a pantheon, it carries on" = Teen Dream = love = "like a pantheon, it carries on forever."
I'm no expert on music but I've listened to a whole lot of it and Teen Dream is one of my favorite albums ever. It is so beautiful and perfect it simply just stands on its own: Beach House's fourth album can't top Teen Dream and can't be a let down from Teen Dream; it's too complete for that.
If you haven't bought (or, my god, even listened to) Teen Dream yet, I urge urge urge urge urge you to do so.
Thank you music, thank you Sub Pop, thank you Beach House, thank you Teen Dream.