Friday, July 16, 2010

Indy Rock Reveiws::: Beach House - Teen Dream

My initial hatred of Beach House was rooted in reasons nearly polar opposite to the root of my initial disdain for Wavves. Where Wavves' brazen one-dimensionality, its haphazard recycling of the same few surf punk chord changes, and the rapturous praise it was almost instantaneously greeted with left me confounded, embittered and depressed, the seemingly conventional perception of Beach House as sophisticated, refined "smart music" a la Dirty Projectors (marginally rougher around the edges), provided a different road map to those same disenchanted feelings.

Of course, status alone is preposterous grounds for disliking a band -- even Malkmus conceded that "1979" was a sick jam -- and I'll be one amongst the droves to consider Grizzly Bear, the poster band for "smart independent 'rock' music," to be one of the very solidest groups making music right now. But Grizzly Bear's music is innovative and expansive, their approach to making music admirably meticulous (just seeing the aerial shot of the infinite clusterfuck of wires, close-mics and foot pedals from the Veckatimest sessions was stressful), their god-given proficiency undeniable, and their songwriting good to very good. Beach House's seemed to lack this expansiveness and innovation, devoid of an edge, and their songwriting lacking of any sort of intangibles. My first hearing of the band was a front-to-back listen of one of the two pre-Teen Dream LPs, I'm not sure which, and the experience was a total wash-- no hooks, chord changes in vain, slow. I only got through the first two songs of Dream before dubbing it an indisputable piece of shit, and giddily expounded upon just how shitty I thought it was as soon as I met up with the friends I'd assumed would indubitably hold shallow affinity for the arpeggiated, reverb-drenched turd. I made excessive, unnecessary note of how unattractive I thought the chick was.

The reality of music listening, as far as I'm concerned, is that despite the sheer multitude of records out there, one only has the will to download so much. People often lament the fact that music downloading has jaded listeners who amass obscene quantities of mp3s, give said mp3s a cursory listen, and then disregard them forever. While I'm obviously sure this still happens, I think more and more people are becoming jaded to the point that they don't even bother downloading shit anymore because, if that Costco-inspired approach to record collecting taught them anything, it's that most music sucks. Why download the Male Bonding LP if the track I heard on YouTube sucked? The positive fallout of this is that less music, at least for me, means reverting back to the days of actually spending time with albums, and granting second chances. This, coupled with the demand twice a week for three-hour iPodathons to keep me sane during art class, proved to be Teen Dream's opportunity to redeem itself in the eyes of Master Craig John Palzius Heed, Esq.

There is a certain majestic quality to the songs on Teen Dream which was just understated enough for me to miss it the first time around. Opener "Zebra" does well to epitomize this quality-- an articulately arpeggiated verse gives way to an ascendant chorus which fits the bill of its lyric ("Any way you run, you run before us/Black and white horse arching among us") and conjures feelings of making one's way through billowing white silk curtains and into the sunlight, as well as the scene from the first Jurassic Park where they seek refuge from the herd of Gallimimuses under that fallen tree (minus the T. Rex). "Silver Soul," which the first time around just sounded like lite FM bullshit to me, also stands out on repeated listens, its chorus a memorable, universal lament, accented by the chick's infectiously fluttering vocal fills which pervade the rest of the disc. "Norway" explodes in a magenta-and-off-white rush of lush-'n-hushed vocals and swirling guitar before settling into a mid-tempo shuffle for the verses, replete with whale sounds, (c) Kevin Shields 1991. It returns to that first propulsive section for the chorus, and to my ears had "lead single" written all over it, though I don't think that was ultimately the case. However, the cream of the crop here is the track directly following, "Walk in the Park." Starting like so many of these songs with a cheap drum machine beat, resulting in a dichotomic sound when all those crisp reverb plug-ins kick in, a reclining clean-channel guitar lead eases its way into verses introspectively sung in the second person. Flurries of Italian-sounding guitars clear every cloud in the sky and pan to an aerial view of the park's shimmering canopy for a gorgeous chorus, as sweeping and stately as anything on the first Vampire Weekend LP, yet better than anything on it. In fact, this is one of the best songs/choruses I've heard all year, right up there with "No Dialogue," "Don't Taunt a Tiger," "Killed by Cars" and "The Exceptional Bastards." Running with the theme of vague-at-best Vampire Weekend comparisons, the second chorus is followed by a coda that leaves me longing for a third choral go-'round a la "Campus" (I first felt solidarity with a particular friend when he turned off "Campus" just before the ascending major scale coda in favor of "Marquee Moon"), except the coda of "Walk in the Park" is actually quite good, just not as good as that chorus.

"Used to Be" would be a microcosm of the album's second half (despite concluding side one) if it weren't for the fact that it's probably weaker than any of the songs to follow. A pleasant-enough pseudo-chorus doesn't take flight into a post-chorus the way you'd like, and for that, the song rings a bit flat. Still, Teen Dream proved once again to be a record which gradually reveals itself; I'd slagged off the second half entirely until relistening for the sake of writing this, and in that most recent listen found that while none of the later tracks close in on matching the heights of the Big Four, they still retain legitimate merit. "Lover of Mine" is a subtly-solid number which vaguely reprises "Norway," while "Real Love," the real latter-half gem, is also possibly the album's slowest song. And while a slower, spacier second half is characteristic of many classic albums -- Feels, Begins-with-a-Q, Ends-with-an-S, Isn't-a-Legit-Word -- where a song like "Banshee Beat" or "Daffy Duck" can actually command greater attention for their sparseness, a track like "Better Times," while decent (still not crazy about the key change), doesn't quite make the grade. Likewise, "10 Mile Stereo" seems to take a tempered approach to reaching a "Walk in the Park"-esque zenith, and the results are alright but not the same. "Take Care," a titular farewell in a similar way to "Bye" from Figure 8 (though with vocals), is built around the simple-yet-poignant couplet "I'll take care of you/If you ask me to," which actually seems to lose some of its luster as it fades into daydreams.

All in all, Teen Dream is an adeptly-crafted album that, at least for me, took a bit of time to appreciate. Still, while it is technically solid front-to-back, it can't help but feel frontloaded for having its four best tracks bunched together at the very beginning. For that, I can't call it a great record the way so many others seem to because it just doesn't flow like one. However, it's clear now that Beach House isn't merely lite FM bullshit -- at least not on this album -- even if I do picture The Captain & Tennille singing all their songs. And honestly, the girl isn't really that ugly.



1 comment:

Kyle Townsend Myers said...

I've probably heard the first track two dozen times and i still can't get into this record. after reading this review i think it might be worth a 25th attempt.