Album Review: Beach House – Depression Cherry

1 Beach House

Black and white force: Beach House retreat into the shadows (photo: bellaunion.com)

Beach House

Depression Cherry (Sub Pop)

1 Depression CherryVictoria Legrand and Alex Scally joined to form Beach House over a decade ago, and as their gentle dream-pop has bloomed in popularity through the years, each new record has brought with it a promise of comfort, of relief, and of timeless, bittersweet longing. Swathed in a husky mystique since their formative releases, they quickly perfected their craft, inextricably twining aching sadness with wide-eyed delight over four albums of increasingly lush textures. Yet in the years following 2012’s Bloom, an uneasy question regarding the group’s future has begun to nag at listeners, communicated by critics uncertain of the group’s staunch refusal to step from their comfort zone. How long can the same spell continue to transfix with the same power? There surely must come a point when even the most patient of fans will crave a deviation from what increasingly resembles the band’s self-made shackles of convention.

Portents for the duo’s fifth album were mixed. When details of Depression Cherry arrived in May, the group proclaimed an intention to ignore their “commercial context in which [they] exist” while honouring their own “natural tendencies”. So far, so traditional, but the unusually scuzzy (by Beach House’s standards) lead single ‘Sparks’ suggested a refitting of their sonic template. As it cycles up in a mesh of brittle guitars and a cranky, carnivalesque organ tone, ‘Sparks’ presents an intriguing new flavour, some hallucinatory imagery (melting houses, rising spines, blurs of green) augmenting the friction of Beach House’s fuzziest song to date. It was a perfect choice to set fans’ mouths watering, but in truth it occupies a strange position on an album which favours more skeletal, reverb-free soundscapes, occasionally reduced to the point of wispiness. Although more tweak of the dials than a total stylistic 180, Depression Cherry strips away some of the band’s more cosseting tropes, and in doing so, loses some of the hypnotic majesty heard on albums past.

As the duo admitted in the aforementioned press statement, the booming swoop of their past two albums didn’t suit their personal tastes in the long run, but one does yearn for more captivating material when songs such as ‘Wildflower’ and ‘Bluebird’ promise more magic than they ultimately muster. On such cuts, that classic Beach House magic is hinted at without being fully coaxed into the light, and the shedding of layers adds a chilly edge to Beach House’s aesthetic, reducing the warm sparkle of yesteryear and forming empty spaces where melancholy hovers. As a result, the dreamlike quality that they have always traded in feels a little less alluring. Hooks don’t resonate with the same clarity as on previous albums, and there are a number of tracks which float prettily during playback, but which disappear from the memory after expiring.

However, the duo’s compositional talents are far from lost, and when the hooks are strong enough to push through the vapour, Depression Cherry houses moments as spellbinding as their past highlights. In contrast to its slighter peers, ‘Space Song’ bubbles with ideas and joyous little lifts, from its bubbly keyboard line to the background melodies that nuzzle against the song’s closing cascades. The intimate drone of ’10:37′ circles a foregrounded drum machine, and Legrand furnishes her rhapsodic sighs with soft harmonies as keyboards billow beneath her. Yet Beach House truly outdo themselves with opener ‘Levitation’, which skirts as close to perfection as one could pray for. It hits all the right notes one expects from a Beach House composition, yet is carried with such poise and emotional cogency that it feels as intimate and moving as a private performance. It’s here that the duo add — rather than remove — layers in their structuring, allowing their characteristic drone to swell to the point where it achieves that magical, intoxicating moment of weightlessness. “Take my hand, as our bodies lift up slowly,” Legrand whispers over the closing moments, and the song holds itself at a hover, drawing out that innocent, brief sensation of total immersion, before quietly returning listeners to reality.

Legrand sounds as enticing as ever in her invitation to “a place I want to take you” in ‘Levitation’, but where that song (and several others) succeeds in achieving a heavenly ascension, Depression Cherry suffers from a lack of clear direction as a whole. As beautiful and heart-achingly lovely as Beach House’s music is – and this reviewer, for one, dreads the day that they finally disappear – you do wonder just how long their appeal will remain as enchanting as it was at their recent peak. “It won’t last forever,” Victoria Legrand hums during the ballroom waltz of ‘PPP’, before teasing “or maybe it will”. While we’d like to imagine that their brand of dream-pop will remain evergreen, for a band so adept at encapsulating the sad sweetness of the ephemeral, one does wonder how long their spark will continue to glow.

“There is no right time.”

07/09/15

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Posted on September 7, 2015, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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