Review Summary: We all float down here.
Beach House have always been more about a feeling than any particular message – like dream pop in general, theirs is an oddly non-specific ethos, powerful sounds evoking . . . something? The beauty is in filling in the blanks. It’s not a surprise that Beach House arrived on the scene seemingly fully formed, Victoria Legrand’s androgynous, ethereal vocals mixing sublimely with Alex Scally’s satin layer of synths and drum machines, built up to an impenetrable, woozy wall. Dream pop has always been somewhat formulaic; Beach House just cracked the code sooner than most. That they’ve lasted this long as torchbearers of a new generation speaks to their songwriting. No dream pop band was writing the kind of insidious hooks that Teen Dream
put out, one after the other, and Bloom
was a double down hailed as a masterpiece when a lesser band would have been accused of retreading the same ground. If anything, Depression Cherry
, the band’s fifth album, is something of a regression. Legrand has rarely sounded this indecipherable, plunged back into the mix as often as she hovers above it. The melodies are still there, swaying softly and wrapping around Legrand’s omnipresent vocals, but rarely do they leap out and seize you like a “Lazuli” or a “Norway.” The most immediate thing here is probably the single “Sparks,” more for the caustic, shrill distortion of the guitar, confused and searching, than anything else. This is a more deliberate album, unfurling through bursts of sound and gradual ripples of guitar that seem to be in no particular hurry to make a song. Beach House’s music has always been in part about escape – it’s right there in the name – and Depression Cherry
is no different. It’s just the kind of escape where you want to detach, float away, and forget.
“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things,” reads a quote from philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer included in Depression Cherry
’s press materials, and as much as themes can be imparted to Beach House’s invitingly blank space, loss is as good a one as any. Opener “Levitation” begins warm and thrilling, Legrand intoning over the kind of vast expanse that Beach House have always tended so carefully, an exciting array of possibilities just waiting. “You and me, with your long hair on the cold wall / after midnight we could feel it all / I go anywhere you want me to / you should see / there’s a place I want to take you.” Yet the track’s slow build disguises Legrand’s dawning realization (“You will grow too quick / then you will get over it”) and a losing struggle with self-doubt (“There’s a place I want to take you / I don’t want to control you”). It is perhaps Beach House’s most devastatingly gorgeous song.
The band has stated this record was influenced by trance, and that’s clear to see. Not the sounds of trance, obviously, but the feeling of surrender the music provokes, whether that’s in the distress flare guitar that arcs across “Beyond Love” or the claustrophobic blanket of sound that washes over Legrand’s lyrics on the stunning “PPP.” Depression Cherry
is a startlingly easy record to get lost in. Some have called this a detriment, causing the record to blur together, to which I say: isn’t that the point? It allows for a cohesive, hypnotic experience, broken up only occasionally – the rather boring lullaby of “10:37” is a droning misstep – but always providing a place to lay your head. Even “Space Song,” the most open tune here, with its stumbling drunk of a guitar line painting zig zags over Legrand’s tearstained smile, is thrilling in its repetition, that hum of empty space waiting to be filled. “Were you ever lost, was she ever found?” Legrand asks, and the deep ache in her voice is like novacaine.
The record’s thesis statement, though, is found in its back end, where “Wildflower” hazily declares “you make something of it / the sky and what’s left above it / the way you want nothing of it.” It’s a bleak sentiment in one light and a release in another. The beauty in Beach House’s music is that you can take it either way and still find the empathy you’re looking for in the music, whether that’s in the major lift of the chorus of “Wildflower” or the narcotic lull pervading “Bluebird.” That Beach House close the record with “Days of Candy,” where a 24-piece a capella group bolsters Legrand’s voice to angelic levels to send off old and forgotten friends, shows that they don’t choose sides. The song is almost dirge-like, but as it nears its end the swell of production is a rising tide of bliss. “I know it comes too soon / the universe is riding off with you / a little bit of you would keep you close to me,” Legrand sings, the nostalgia painful but also sweet. It’s a resolution that feels essential. Sometimes loss can be liberating, too.