by: Stephen Masnyj
Beach House has always been a band that looked inward. Their songs don’t exist so much as float in the ether around you, giving you a sonic accompaniment to those days where your thoughts drift to unknown corners in your mind. The group’s output for the past ten years has struck a nerve with listeners not only because of the alarming quality, but because these songs’ unique aura have played an important role in many listener’s lives. Their songs comfort listeners like a warm blanket, plunging them to their darkest corners of malaise or enveloping them in the white hot emotion of the moment. Since their debut album, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have made incremental tweaks to their formula, with Devotion’s homespun recordings giving way to Teen Dream’s hazy pop and eventually Bloom’s widescreen bombast. However, instead of expanding outward as an extension of Bloom’s large scale, Beach House have again looked inward and took a step back to scale down their sound with their newest effort; the admittedly confoundingly titled Depression Cherry.
While the album’s sounds and feelings will be nothing new for long time fans of the group, it seems like the band has distilled all of their strengths to their very core. “Levitation” kicks off the album with one of the slowest songs in their discography, and is reminiscent of the syrupy drip of their earlier efforts. Yet the song slowly unfurls over time, with Legrand’s voice creeping higher and higher: “There’s a place I want to take you/Where the unknown will surround you.” Indeed, the unknown is a much more prominent theme on this record than any of their previous works. More than anything, the album is fixated on the unknown and uncontrollable along one’s life path; the unchangeable passage of time inspires “10:37”’s toy soldier march, while “Wildflower” and “Bluebird” lament over uncontrollable circumstances. Legrand’s voice is much higher in the mix this time around, and she sounds all the better for it, with some of the best vocal performances of her career dotting these songs. Mid album centerpiece “PPP” has her voice circling figure 8’s around Scally’s tremolo guitar outro, and “Sparks” has her voice fixated on a falsetto she has yet to use in any of the group’s previous albums.
While changes between Beach House have been largely incremental throughout their career, the biggest change between Depression Cherry and their previous effort on Bloom is the lack of reliance on drums; there’s nothing on this record that pops like “Other People” or “Wishes,” but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost anything in the sense of theatricality; if anything the arresting moments on the record are amplified in a less-is-more XX type of mentality. “10:37” climax is equipped with nothing but a drum machine and Legrand’s sighing: “10:37/House made of the dawn/Disappears.” If Bloom was a dazzling display of fireworks, then Depression Cherry is the glow in the sky in the aftermath; with the heat of the emotion still lingering in the air.
The band’s decision to make the cover of this record an all felt, deep red is telling of their philosophy as a group; they’re not so much sending a message as creating the circumstances to evoke a feeling. Legrand’s oft mentioned lyrical ambiguity continues in full force here, with every track’s chorus functioning more as a mantra than a melodic centerpiece. “Space Song’s” gorgeous refrain of “Fall/Back/In/To/Place” may not be the most personally revealing work, but the openness creates an emotional universality that is all encompassing.
“Days of Candy” continues the group’s tradition of epic closing songs, with a choir backing Legrand’s falsetto for nearly three minutes before any percussion kicks in. As the drums slowly fade in to the mix in that final moment, one can’t help that Beach House’s entire career has built up to this singular peak of their powers. “I know/It comes/Too soon/The universe is riding off with you,” she laments. For years fans have turned to Beach House for answers; comfort them in their darkest moments, and to lift them in their brightest. More than any other group, emotion is their true centerpiece beyond any vocal or instrument. Their songs exist in your personal space to heighten your senses and stoke emotions. And yet in this final gasp of sound, even Legrand admits that even she doesn’t have all the answers to the unknown; just that it often whisks us away, as another moment in time in our existence. Indeed, sometimes the journey is more important than the final destination.
10/10; one of the finest records of the year.