Beach House's 'Depression Cherry', Reviewed

'Depression Cherry' lays the groundwork for innovation, but doesn't fully capitalize
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'Depression Cherry' lays the groundwork for innovation, but doesn't fully capitalize

Beach House’s music is a lucid daydream, existing in a world that parallels yet differs from your own in countless ways. The air is a bit thicker. Gravity is a bit stronger. Colors are a bit richer. Emotions run deeper. Everything slows down, not quite full speed. It is all recognizable, but slightly askew.

This is the world that Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have cultivated and inhabited for a decade. From one album to the next, Beach House have never gone for the sweeping sonic overhaul. Their transitions have been subtle, granular. I’m reminded of the National. A band so keyed-in on its sound, a sound so synonymous with its identity, that breaking character is untenable at this point.

Although Cocteau Twins and Slowdive remain ever-present touchstones, it would be difficult to mistake Beach House for any other contemporary act. Five albums in, they seem disinterested in surprises. They deliver the goods from the corner into which they have willingly painted themselves. Familiarity still works as an asset for the Baltimore duo, though less than ever before.

In this context, Depression Cherry is an unusual artistic move for a band with indie-cred flirting with mainstream success. It is the duo’s most abstract work since 2008’s Devotion. Their sound, while immediately distinctive, is more diffuse, taking a less emphatic approach to melody and structure.

Beach House Depression Cherry Art

Even the album’s meatiest tracks are less poppy. Pre-choruses bleed into choruses, which bleed into the bridges. The percussion is metronomic, dimpling rather than dominating the arrangements — as was sometimes the case on Bloom. The gauzy keyboards are more prominent, replacing thick, buttery ribbons of guitar. Legrand’s vocals sound as pretty and warm as ever, though she stretches herself less here, and there are fewer moments where she soars.

Without his weapon of choice, Scally operates with tremendous competence. When he does use his guitar, it serves as a foil to Legrand. Lead single “Sparks” sounds like it was melted in the microwave before Scally scraped those blurry notes into it. He employs the same guitar tone on “Beyond Love”, scuffing up some of Legrand’s best lyrical work on the album: “First thing that I do before I get into your house/I’m going to tear off all the petals from the rose that’s in your mouth”.

More often than not, the lyrics offer vague or broad imagery, coaxing you to fill in the blanks. On “Wildflower”, Legrand uses scale to tremendous effect: “You built a city all in your head”. The heavy-hanging “Space Song” exists at the intersection of love and naïveté where the latter is never punished (“You wide-eyed girls/You get it right”). It is a relic of the duo’s breakthrough sound. Its weightless guitar line bringing to mind “Silver Soul”.

There are times where the familiarity feels less like your childhood blanket and more like a rerun of your favourite TV show from five years ago. This is particularly evident with Depression Cherry’s midsection. With invariably lush scenery and elliptical lyrics, “PPP”, “Beyond Love” and “Bluebird” are prototypical Beach House songs. They are unsurprising in their consistency, and would slot in comfortably on any of their three previous albums.

Inherently, this doesn’t have to be a problem — Bloom and Teen Dream each had a handful of tracks that didn’t necessarily dazzle. But at just nine tracks, Depression Cherry comes off as more anaemic than its predecessors. Closer “Days of Candy” disrupts the pattern, with a massive choir laying the groundwork for Legrand’s hedonist swan song.

Minor sonic updates don’t entirely compensate for the lack of deep cuts, but it’s hard to fault Depression Cherry for playing to Beach House’s well-established strengths. You get the sense that their trademark sound may be approaching its “best before” date. It’s an easy record to enjoy, and while it is by no means a letdown, it’s a tough album to get excited over. That it lays the groundwork for innovation and seems reluctant to capitalize on it is the only real disappointment. B

Depression Cherry is out Friday. Buy it here