We use a lot of obtuse subgenres. Post-hardcore was once a literal phrase--Ian Mackaye was in a hardcore band, and that's why we might think of aggressive but angular punk rock as a default for the term. Skramz? A word simply made up to replace the bastardization of another; without context, it tells you nothing...unless you're an Internet nerd dabbling in the historical aspects of semi-obscure emotional hardcore, of course. But dream pop? Oddly enough, there's a sense of musicality one can pull from that, and Beach House not only nail it to a 'T' on Teen Dream, their third full-length--they create one devastating composition of it after another.
Everything Teen Dream is it shouldn't be. and that vague sense of what it all is is, well, dream-like. If no one told you frontwoman Victoria Legrand's name, you'd never be sure of the gender--her voice is strangely alluring in that smoky and harrowing way, like the more androgynous version of Neko Case she's so readily been compared to. The percussion is really just a drum machine, but it sounds unfathomably organic, and especially within these songs' respective contexts. I've heard recordings of actual kits that sound more fake. Alex Scally's guitars and light keys and other occasional multiple vocal tracks create a consistent atmosphere, but overwhelming, indie pop-styled melodies surface from the rise in volume and register. And Legrand seems to direct these flourishing cascades with a sick but easy confidence. And this happens every single song; and it's fucking delightful.
You want to follow Beach House everywhere they go on these tracks. The songs average five minutes apiece, but they drift and saunter with palpable movement, from Legrand's demeaning, repetitive chorus in "Silver Soul" to the lush, affecting "Norway." The latter finds Scally blessing the intro with sparkly riffs and rhythmic shakers while distinct female harmonies begin to push the song in a weirdly frustrated tension. The verses have this nervously seasick nausea about them, but it's oddly captivating; the chorus is big, but not overreaching. Needless to say, it's the album at its most compelling.
But it's not as though Teen Dream's other cuts pale in comparison. "Lover of Mine" is ushered in like a glossy club remix at quarter time, but transitions expectedly into a more expansive, freewheeling anthem with Legrand soaring over the chorus. "10 Mile Stereo" is paced and curiously urgent, while "Take Care" is an unwinding, insistent closer stopping just short of six minutes.
Of course, the aforementioned subgenre would be a little incomplete without a visual aspect. Hell, you've probably already adjusted your monitor or seat position in order to view the cover art file properly. Beach House has it in another area, though--complementing the album is a DVD of videos for every track on the album in a new sequence. And they're all pretty bizarre or obtuse themselves. Choreographed wooden dolls appear in "Used to Be," a hazy, blue-tinted clip that's overall just a shade creepy; high contrast and sunlight seems to be the motive in "Better Times." In one scene for "Walk in the Park," a couple monsters and other more normal girls have a psychedelic trip and start foaming at the mouth when they eat a sandwich culled from the chest of a young hipster caveman. Yep. "Zebra" is simply reverberating colors, a fiery desert, perhaps, shrouded by smeared yellows and oranges pulsating erratically. "Silver Soul" looks like Goldust’s lair...with hula hoops. “Norway,” by Showbeast, has an actual storyline and plot, a fantastical, comical adventure with puppets...seemingly inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia. And “Take Care”? An elderly woman, maybe on her way to heaven, lip-syncing to the song for us, for the most part. So, yeah, the DVD content surely keeps up the idea of a dream-like state, placing the band's technicolor ideas into a pretty literal sense.
Not that they really seem to be trying, but Beach House hammer out the aural and visual components of this style wonderfully. An engrossing, engaging album from start to finish with some rather stunning highs along the way.