Depression Cherry retreats from the sonic advances of Teen Dream and Bloom toward a primitive and stripped down sound.
Living up to the placidity and comfort of their very name, Beach House has never had to stretch themselves too much. From the moment they released their self-titled debut in 2006, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have largely offered variations on a theme, adding and subtracting small riffs on their core dream pop sound while remaining fully formed from the start. Their third and fourth LPs, Teen Dream and Bloom, broke through largely by filtering that sound through more grandiose production that maximized their mixture of flighty bliss and droning unease. Only Bloom, with its added emphasis on fuller percussion, offered any real deviation from the brand, afflicting the duo’s sound with a heaviness that at times suggested that the “b” in the album’s title could just as easily have been substituted for a “g.”
Depression Cherry retreats from the sonic advances of Teen Dream and Bloom toward a primitive and stripped down sound, to the point that songs like “10:37,” with its Casio metronome click and skeletal instrumentation, could pass for demos. In its own way, however, this simplified sound represents a progression of its own. If Beach House shies away from the bombast of their previous two LPs, they nonetheless bring over the flashes of experimentation that occasionally showed on those records. Opener “Levitation,” for example, mostly starts out as vintage Beach House, blending choral synths with drones into laidback dream pop. But then a keyboard pattern redolent of a carousel calliope settles in, adding a hint of strange nostalgia bolstered by lyrics that swap the usual childishness of dream pop for more adult ruminations on a struggling relationship, as well as the way that time seems to accelerate as one ages. “You will grow too quick,” Legrand sings to her partner, “then you will get through it.” Dream pop tends to flirt with a more gothic kind of fatalism when it gets dour, but this trades angst for more clear-eyed, accepting resignation.
Elsewhere, the duo continues to poke around with their sound. “Sparks” has a heavily distorted guitar riff that recalls variously U2, My Bloody Valentine and even the lighter moments of metal polymath Devin Townsend. The song lives up to the ephemeral joy of its title with a series of brief escalations and fizzles, constantly introducing a sense of whimsy that fades and rises and fades again. “Bluebird” ports over the simplistic click track from “10:37” but uses it less as a timekeeper than a contrast for its pulsing bass drone, while a staccato chorus latches both vocals and melody to a halting rhythm that lingers on each iambic stress for half-a-second before taking a step down to the next note. “Space Song” most effectively retains the broader sonic textures of Bloom in this more intimate setting, beautifully mixing brittle, bent guitar lines and percolating synths. Forever retreating from the catharsis that the swells of the last album afforded, the track makes even the lilting composition turn inward and, as the chorus says, “Fall back into place.”
Nowhere is the band’s subtle growth more visible than on “PPP.” Scally’s descending guitar riff and gentle, wordless singing introduces Legrand speaking the first verse before falling back into her torch-singer croon for the rest of the song. No verse is longer than a few lines, but Legrand pores over each syllable, etching them with such regret that it seems to take a full minute to get through a verse. Her sorrow is refracted by Scally, who halfway into the song introduces aching slide-blues guitar that punctures the elegant wash of the Beach House sound. Eventually, Scally slides right into surf music which, combined with the multitracked vocals that let Legrand harmonize with herself, suggest that, if for but one song, a more fitting band name could be the Beach Girls.
“PPP” also summarizes the album’s overriding focus on faltering relationships, itself a metaphor for a larger focus on growing older with uncertainty. “It won’t last forever, or maybe it will,” Legrand sings, sounding as uncomfortable with the latter prospect as the former. “Wildflower” continues this notion by situating a couple’s greatest sense of unity in the alienation they are starting to feel from each other as their interests start to diverge. The full reach of the lyrical conceit is appropriately revealed on the last song, “Days of Candy.” Backed by a small choir from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, Legrand and Scally layer contrapuntal synth patterns into a composition that has more elements than most Beach House songs yet feels like one of their sparest tracks. The song uses candy as a stand-in for all unhealthy but delightful pleasures of youth that can no longer be freely indulged in adulthood, when the body cannot process such empty treats without consequence. The track progresses asymptotically, adding new strands of synthesizer rhythms even as the sound diminishes toward zero. Almost a decade into their career, Beach House have never departed from their initial sound but have also never rested on their laurels, and with Depression Cherry they betray not only flashes of musical maturity but a deeper outlook on life as well. “Days of Candy” could speak for the entire ethos of dream pop with the line “Just like that, it’s gone,” but Beach House is now firmly living outside of anyone’s shadow, and they are taking the genre to its greatest heights since its Cocteau Twins heyday.