18 December 2010

2010 Albums: Beach House

Beach House
Teen Dream
Released January 26, 2010 (Sub Pop)

Short notes: Drowsy Baltimore duo make a Sub Pop record. Beautiful, but not entirely attention-grabbing.

I think that the idea of "pop" has changed a fair bit within the indie community over the last 5 years. I see this record described often as what I might (borrowing an idea from my political science day job) call "pop with adjectives"--dream pop, psych-pop, chill pop. It's as thought the idea of "pop" has become either so divisive, disagreeable, or broad that we can't really see what it all might have in common. So when I say that this record doesn't sound like "pop" to me (and singer Victoria Legrand certainly doesn't sound like Stevie Nicks, which is a comparison made by several otherwise reputable sources. Ok, so maybe her voice has a certain timbre reminiscent of Stevie, but the way she sings--the phrasing, the way she lifts her voice--is completely different), you'll forgive me. There's nothing really exuberant here. There's emotion, and dynamic variation, and arrangements sometimes evocative of pop, but what I think of as essentially "poppy"--the energy, really--is largely absent.

There's still a lot to enjoy here. The songs are beautiful, all laid back organ swirling and jerky drum machines, with Legrande's vocal dynamism (I'm led to believe she shows rather more range here than on previous records) out in front. But the wide-eyed, simple, and soft approach of a lot of the current indie crop (Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, these kids) leaves me a bit cold. At the end of the day, it sounds a bit like a genre exercise, rather than the great pop record everyone else seems to be hearing. Recommended, but not without reservations.

Except for those rare moments where I have some free time to just listen to music, I'm doing something else while I have my headphones on. So, when I say that an album doesn't hold my attention, it's not necessarily a damnable critique. But when 'what I'm doing' is 'work,' where I'm often looking for a little distraction, then it's a little harder to give the music a pass. This isn't a bad album at all -- the songwriting is pretty good, the music isn't bad -- it's just mostly boring outside of its beginning and end. It'd make a great soundtrack to some indie hipster romcom, where the pleasant sheen and lack of significant hooks is beneficial and bolstered by images.

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