Beach House – Teen Dream
Beach House – Teen Dream (2010)
One of my favorite "NYC days" involved seeing Beach House perform live. It was a few months before Teen Dream was released, on a Sunday afternoon in the late summer of 2009. I was aware of the band but not familiar with their music enough to recognize individual songs, and while I consequently don't remember any specific songs they played that day, I have to imagine a handful would've been from their forthcoming release. The specific setlist was at any rate less an object to the performance's superlativeness than was the absolutely perfect vignette of the band conjuring forth their soaring melodies against the backdrop of the late afternoon Manhattan skyline from where we watched, enraptured, at Bushwick Inlet Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The show was part of a series of 'summer Sunday' parties put on by a promotional vehicle called JellyNYC. Scanning the internet lore that remains of this phenomenon (seemingly defunct by 2011), they began in the summer of 2006 situated at the McCarren Park Pool (also in Williamsburg), featuring performances from indie bands, drinks, dodgeball, and all manner of chill summer vibes. By the time I showed up in 2009, the parties had moved to the aforementioned waterside park, dodgeball and all. Oh, yes: you'd better believe my companion and I signed those crinkling waivers and took the court for a round or two. I remember it being peopled by a bunch of jacked, shirtless, six-foot-something dudes who seemed way too good at dodgeball to be there for the music or the chill vibes. Anyway, featured on the bill that day below Beach House were VEGA (Alan Palomo's artistic vehicle before forming Neon Indian) and Grizzly Bear – needless to say, this affair was veritably 2009 peak indie.
When Teen Dream came out a few months later in early 2010 I bought it and it quickly became part of my heavy rotation. The main single from the album was "Norway", but as usually happens with album nerds I found a number of the other songs to be superior. Tracks like "Silver Soul" and "Walk in the Park" have a soaring, sublime quality that filled me with awe. Most of the tracks are formed around a piano riff, flourished with clean, rich guitar, carried along with the band's trademark plodding percussion. But the centerpiece of it all, unmistakable and illustrious, is Victoria Legrand's haunting voice. It towers above all, icy and beguiling; oceanic in depth. It's at its peak in the minimal "Real Love", which still now floors me when I hear it.
The production to be found on the album deserves much of the credit, and, frankly, I think represents something of an unfortunate high-water mark for the band. In their subsequent albums the production, particularly in its treatment of Legrand's vocals, is different – it seems less clear-eyed, less punchy, less gripping. To be fair, among these albums is to be found songwriting which must be said to be at least on par with Teen Dream's (particularly 2015's Depression Cherry). But somehow, the production seems to have, in my humble opinion, regressed, and in fact feels more akin to the album that preceded Teen Dream, Devotion. Maybe this is a conscious artistic decision, but I think it's to the detriment of Legrand's vocals, if nothing else.
I keep hoping they revisit this particular production style. Their other albums are strong, but Teen Dream occupies a vital place among various rotations of mine, no doubt augmented by the vague but inspiring memory of that Sunday afternoon. Though that show preceded any consistent phone-enabled photographic record I have (pretty sure I was still rocking a Blackberry in '09), at the time of writing this – by some divine coincidence – the Wikipedia page for Victoria Legrand features a picture of her captured at that very show. There's not much in the frame outside of the singer's steadily-gazing visage, but perhaps one can imagine what an afternoon it might've been.