“Norway,” the first single and third track off Beach House’s third album, Teen Dream, is the Baltimore dream-pop duo’s first truly mediocre composition. The “ooh”s that open the mid-tempo, MOR-lite drag sound Paula Cole-worthy, while the sepia-colored goth trappings of the chorus are reminiscent (in feeling, not in practice) to Death Cab for Cutie’s New Moon soundtrack contribution “Meet Me on the Equinox.” Victoria Legrand wails over the proceedings less like Stevie Nicks and more like a joke about Stevie Nicks that Craig Finn would make, and everything surrounding her seems locked in its own landing gear. It’s the kind of radio cred-grabbing that’s not a good look for any band, much less one as previously consistent as Beach House, and it earns them any complaints directed their way of “selling out” (check out their feature in this month’s Vanity fucking Fair, if you don’t believe me).
Luckily, Legrand and partner Alex Scally mostly avoid this specific peril on Teen Dream (save maybe for album midpoint and “Norway” cousin “Lover Of Mine”) and continue pushing their sound skyward while retaining the intimacy that made their last two albums the perfect salvo for glorious depression. As a guitarist, Scally drops Technicolor bombs over every song where he would’ve previously provided foggy licks; the dewdrop string-bending of “Silver Soul” embodies both words in the song’s title, while on album bookends “Zebra” and “Take Care” his meticulous figures approximate post-rock’s sweep while maintaining a melodic even keel.
Legrand has grown as a singer as well; her voice is duskier on Teen Dream than it’s ever been, but it’s also wizened in a way that distinguishes her vocal outlook from the small horrors and dreamscapes detailed on Devotion. Her Joplin-esque (that’s Janis, not Scott) performance on “Silver Soul” is heavy with emotion, while she wraps her voice around the hopscotch-piano melody of “Used To Be.”
What these two do separately acts as a mere foil for their sheer compositional strengths as a duo. Beach House have reached the point in their career where achieving grand melodic climaxes seems to come to them effortlessly, and on Teen Dream the climaxes are as thrilling as ever before. For “Walk In The Park” and “Silver Soul,” those moments can turn on a dime, while album highlight “10 Mile Stereo” crescendos to an absolute tornado of rhythm and propulsion — imagine the first 30 seconds of Neko Case’s “This Tornado Loves You” stretched out over five minutes.
Judging from what Beach House did with Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last a Long Time,” it’s too bad “Take Care” isn’t a Big Star cover. But considering the batch of originals they’ve cooked up this time around, the covers can wait.