Album Review – Depression Cherry / Beach House

Beach House are a Baltimore dream-pop band on their fifth album now. Their first two albums were quiet, introspective affairs. Their third and fourth, Teen Dream and Bloom, were also quiet, introspective affairs, but they had the might of Sub-Pop behind them, and the instrumentation came across as much grander and predominant. Their new album, Depression Cherry, has been positioned as more like their first two albums, but it sounds a lot more like Teen Dream, both in concept and in style. The length of the album is very similar to that of Teen Dream, roughly 15 minutes less than the sprawling Bloom. The sounds, pared back to Teen Dream standards, have the same evolution that their third album did, incorporating more shoegazey guitars and Victoria Legrand changes up her vocal style on a few songs here and there, such as ‘Beyond Love’ and ‘Sparks’. While Beach House don’t stand alongside the shoegaze revivalists such as the Horrors or even the resurrected Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, the sound owes a lot more to dream-pop godfathers Cocteau Twins; the dreamy side with plenty of reverb, but also a pop side. Depression Cherry might not be the overhaul that Teen Dream was, but it’s some of the most blissful and satisfying music you’ll hear this year.

The opening three-song act is the strongest Beach House have ever come out of the gate. Beach House have never exploded into action, but the shoegaze opener of ‘Space Song’ to the steel-drum-synths of ‘Levitation’. ‘Levitation’ begins like ‘Myth’ did on Bloom, before some synthetic drums roll in. Legrand sings ‘There is no right time’. It really kicks off at the 2:30 mark with a muffled guitar and eventually a surprisingly clear shoegaze guitar cuts through the dreamscapes as Legrand sings ‘There is a place I want to take you’. It’s emotional, heartwarming stuff. ‘Levitation’ isn’t as immediate as ‘Myth’ was in the opener competition, but it grows and grows on you. ‘Sparks’ is the track most people have heart. The guitar is still as interesting as it appeared a couple of months ago; drenched in distortion. The first two lines resemble a forgotten song from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs with ‘We drive around this town / Houses melting down’. Legrand’s lyrics on Depression Cherry are some of her best yet, mostly ambiguous and open to interpretation. ‘Space Song’ sounds exactly like you’d expect: A mix of Slowdive’s ‘Sing’ and astronaut loneliness. It’s a soundtrack to the loneliness of space, but also the space of ‘somewhere in these eyes’. It’s a beautiful metaphor and an interesting riff on the ‘lost in your eyes’ theme that tends to get banded around a lot.

‘Beyond Love’ is one of the weaker tracks on the album, despite opening with Alex Scally’s newfound love of shoegaze guitars. It is very Slowdive at points, but also very Cocteau Twins. Once again, the lyrics are incredible. Legrand opens with ‘The first thing that I do before I get into your house / I’m gonna tear off all the petals from the rose that’s in your mouth’. Even when I can’t interpret the lyrics, it’s easy just to take a step back and appreciate the vivid imagery Legrand comes up with. ’10:37′ is another example of Legrand’s lyrical ambiguity, with ‘Chances are / 10:37 / Houses made of dawn disappear’. While these words might seem impenetrable, it never sounds wrong or pretentious, partially because Legrand’s voice is so unique and it’s backed by gorgeous instrumentation. Even ‘PPP’ has a spoken word intro, before sounding quite a bit like ‘Take Care’ from Teen Dream. If there’s one criticism I have about Beach House, it’s that you often wonder ‘Have I heard this before?’. The good thing about Depression Cherry is that at nine tracks, it’s short enough to have a personality and character for each song, but doesn’t sound over in an instant, because no Beach House record shouldn’t feel like an elongated, cloudy dream. This second trilogy of songs is weaker than the first three and last three, leading to a mid-album slump which thankfully it does recover from.

Finally, ‘Wildflower’, ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Days Of Candy’ close out the record. ‘Wildflower’ opens with softly-hit synthetic drums and Legrand’s organ making a welcome return. There’s even a little guitar solo bridge between the second verse and third verse, but it doesn’t take away from the music, it’s just a flair to attach to the melody. Legrand gives a rare moment of directness when she sings ‘Baby I’m yours’, but the rest of the track is clouded in colours, sky and city imagery. My only criticism of the track is the way it simply dies at the end, no fade or anything. It briefly cuts the mood. ‘Bluebird’ is a moody guitar-and-synth-oriented-track, but another that dies a quick death at the end. It stands alongside ‘Beyond Love’ as one of the weaker tracks, but no track on Depression Cherry is bad – really. ‘Days of Candy’ tops the album off perfectly with the backing of a choir. It’s another track that’s reminiscent of Slowdive, especially the similarity of Victoria Legrand and Rachel Goswell’s vocals. The song is something of a cyclical finale for the ‘Depression’ part of Depression Cherry, as ‘Days of Candy’ references good days; content, sweet days. When Legrand sings ‘I know it comes too soon’ she is talking about another wave of depression, brought on by ‘the universe is riding off with you’. She is content to let it happen, as long as she has her ‘Days of Candy’ to balance it. It’s one of Beach House’s sadder songs, but it brings Depression Cherry to a brilliant end, assisted finally by a fade out instead of another cut.

There it is, a micro-overview of every song on Depression Cherry, which isn’t too hard considering it’s nine songs and clocks in at 45 minutes. Unlike previous Beach House records, that 45 minutes never drags, which I found it to do on Teen Dream and on Bloom. Depression Cherry isn’t the evolution that I expected, but it’s a necessary and comforting stepping stone. This could be seen as Beach House relaxing into their sound, but the lyrical treasures and the instrumentation are enough to make this record stand on its own two feet. This is the best Beach House record yet, not for the revolution in sound, the attention to detail when it comes to constructing songs, or even the lyrics. It’s the best because it feels like Beach House don’t have anything to prove and can make what they want; it has the same freeing creativity as In Rainbows by Radiohead did when it came out. I love this album.

9/10

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