There's no question that Teen Dream — the third effort from Baltimore keyboard/guitar duo Beach House — is the mark of a new era for the band. But don't call it a definitive album. They're just getting started.
"I think it's an evolution, and I think the next record will be the same thing; it will be an evolution," says singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand. "Saying anything is definitive, I think, is kind of the unfortunate death of an artist. Maybe not for them, but in the public eye it's musically proclaiming the end. Because where is an artist going to go from there. Anti-definitive?"
But it's easy to see where such bold proclamations are coming from. The album is 50 minutes of melancholy daydreams, soaring atmospherics and daze-inducing melodies that leave you with that sort of feeling you can't put your finger on but can't seem to shake. Legrand's raspy alto is blessed with the beautiful gloom of cult sirens from Nico to Cat Power, and it leads the charge of momentum that swells and subsides with her droning keys and guitarist Alex Scally's simple riffs and fluid slide. All the while, each element's separate but intersecting rhythms create a constant sense of movement and climax without being in a hurry to get anywhere.
Legrand, though, offers a more tangible perspective.
"When we toured Devotion, we played those songs so many times that we learned an incredible amount, and I think our music eventually effected us much more physically," she explains. "We looked back and decided that we weren't feeling it enough and wondered how we could make it more dynamic and things like that. So all that energy went into Teen Dream, and we made a more physical record.
"I think the reaction from people is that something has been brought closer to them. But I don't think things have been made any easier for people, because that's not the kind of music that we make."
It may not be easy, but it's hard to resist. The wall of sound on tracks like "10 Mile Stereo" is uplifting and inspiring while the fuzzy drag and gentle "ahhs" of "Silver Soul" are more like audible heroin. They are songs that can be the focus of your most concentrated attention or the soundtrack to a trance. And that's exactly what Legrand and Scally had in mind when they named the album.
"The words Teen Dream are more of an invitation or a spontaneous release of energy," Legrand remarks. "They're not specific to our own teenage pasts or anything literal like that. They're just the perfect words for this place we were in and a place we were going to. Hopefully, I think, very lightly, and very open ended.
"I think that they can be seen in many different ways," she continues, "and it's very important for us that it's an open experience. It can be personal, but it's not necessarily literal and closed. Imaginative is where we are and have always been."
Much of the inspiration behind those vivid imaginations, she says, comes from the experience of traveling. Luckily, Beach House does more than its fair share. The duo maintain a relentless touring schedule, often spending more time on the road than in any one particular place. Clearly, it's working for them.
"The experience of traveling is, I think, very crucial," she says. "It is basically our home. We get a lot of ideas on the road, these kind of dreams and these visions and things like that, and they keep you moving forward, in whatever direction that will be."
This weekend that direction will lead to Asheville as the band visits the Grey Eagle for what promises to be a total sensory experience. With little more than a drum kit, a guitar and some keyboards, Beach House burst from the stage, unleashing an emotionally charged soundscape that consumes the audience like a sonic tidal wave. It's something you must experience to fully appreciate, but Legrand has developed a knack for relating the feeling.
"It is a different experience," she admits. "If you listen to the record, you're listening to the album order, and you're having a personal moment. It could be on headphones or it could be in your apartment at high volume. But when you're at a show, the music is kind of all over you, and that's what we hope people experience. You can have that personal moment but also have it kind of wash over you."
And if that's not enough, the band has begun incorporating surprise visual elements to enhance the mood. But don't expect anything too flashy or over-the-top. As with everything else, Beach House takes a little and make a lot.
"We've never tried to do anything beyond our reach, in the sense of over-embellishing to make up for something," says Legrand. "I think we very much work from the inside out. I like the word simplicity. I know that's maybe not a very interesting word, but for me it's a really important one. I think you'd be surprised when you realize how many things that seem really huge are actually, at the core, coming from something that's very basic."
[Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
who: Beach House, with Washed Out
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, April 30 (9 p.m. At press time, show was sold out. myspace.com/beachhousemusic