Beach House

Teen Dream (Sub Pop ’10) Rating: A
A recent discovery, a good two years or so after this album appeared near the top of many a year-end critic's lists, Teen Dream has quickly become a firm favorite of mine. First of all, it's impressive that the duo of Victoria Legrand (lead vocals, keyboards) and Alex Scally (guitar, bass, keyboards, backing vocals) can deliver such a lush, sumptuous, full sound, though supposedly this album, the group's third, is considerably more fleshed out and is a considerable step up in quality from the two that preceded it. I haven't heard those two yet, but they certainly perfected their craft on this stunner of a "dream pop" album, which is a perfect fit for a lazy summer day, or any time you're in the mood for a thoroughly intoxicating "chill out" album I suppose. Adjectives such as beautiful, hazy, and angelic are fitting for their languorously melancholic mood music, which reminds me a bit of mellow My Morning Jacket or maybe the Fleet Foxes but with a gal singing, and quite excellently at that though her voice is far from the norm. That's a good thing, I might add, and Scally adds airy harmonies as well, fleshing out a reverb-heavy keyboards and guitar-based sound that's unerringly pleasant if a tad homogenous at times. That said, individual songs do stand out (personal faves among a smartly concise 10-track listing: "Zebra," "Silver Soul," "Norway," "Walk in the Park," "Lover of Mine," "10 Mile Stereo") after repeat plays, often by virtue of a song's singable vocal hooks. True, the album is frontloaded like most albums, and maybe there are a couple of merely pleasant tracks towards the back end, but the luxuriant music here casts a hypnotic spell, and as such it's a rare album from the past decade that I completely and instantly adored.

Bloom (Sub Pop ’12) Rating: A-
File this album under “more of the same” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you liked Teen Dream you should like Bloom too, as the duo continue crafting perfectly pleasant, atmospheric, and often-gorgeous songs that some I’m sure would criticize as lacking excitement and sounding too similar. It’s true that aside from the superb lead single “Myth,” maybe their most instantly memorable song yet, most of these songs are “growers” and that for me it lacks the freshness of discovery that so excited me about Teen Dream (the album itself isn’t exciting but you know what I mean). But there’s something to be said for finding a style you’re good at and sticking with it, though usually the law of diminishing returns comes into play too if you go to the same well once too often. That’s definitely not the case here, not for me yet, anyway, though maybe some of the songs could be a bit hookier and on the whole I’d say that Bloom is a slight step down from Teen Dream. Once again their summery sound is comprised of shimmering guitars, well-placed keyboards/organ/piano, surprisingly creative and at times groovy beats (though the tempo is never more than mid-tempo), and most notably Legrand’s unique vocals and the duo’s strong harmonies. I’ll refrain from commenting about individual songs because this album’s strength is in its consistent quality, and though maybe sometimes the album functions as mere background music, it’s almost always melodic, pleasant, and quite beautiful.

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