Album Review: Beach House – Depression Cherry

By on Thursday, 3rd September 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Shawn Brackbill

beachhouse-depressioncherry-900Despite my family connection to the Baltimore area, I haven’t until now taken the opportunity to listen to the Charm City-based band Beach House, and I was surprised to learn that their latest album ‘Depression Cherry’ is the fifth in their discography. Comprising French-born Victoria Legrand on vocals and keys and Baltimore native Alex Scally on guitar, the pair have been on the music scene for over 10 years. They released their self-titled debut album to critical acclaim in 2006 and their output has been regular ever since, with ‘Devotion’ in 2008, ‘Teen Dream’ in 2010 and ‘Bloom’ in 2012.

The wait for ‘Depression Cherry’ has been slightly longer, as a carefully considered result of Beach House’s stated desire to “let ourselves evolve while fully ignoring the commercial context in which we exist.” The press release for the album continues, “With the growing success of ‘Teen Dream’ and ‘Bloom’, the larger stages and bigger rooms naturally drove us towards a louder, more aggressive place; a place farther from our natural tendencies.”

‘Depression Cherry’ marks a deliberate “return to simplicity, with songs structured around a melody and a few instruments, with live drums playing a far lesser role.” This quote is an important footnote in the context of the album. While the songs’ central guitar and keyboard melodies are allowed to take precedence and evolve in their own natural sort of way, the rhythm of the songs and their underlying structures remain quite nebulous. Legrand’s breathy vocal lines fall somewhere in between, like a helium balloon tied to a child’s finger, safely anchored in place but floating blissfully above.

The band describe ‘Depression Cherry’ as “a color, a place, a feeling, an energy that describes the place you arrive as you move through the endlessly varied trips of existence.” Opening track ‘Levitation’ immediately alludes to that statement with shimmering, slowly moving keyboard harmonies and Legrand’s enticing repeated invitation, “there’s a place I want to take you.”  From that starting point, Beach House take on the concept of energy with the harder-edge and slightly discordant guitar sound of ‘Sparks’. The heavily distorted and disorienting instrumentation plays perfectly into the second verse lyrics, “hallucination comes / think of everyone / that never shared before / from my mouth to yours / and then it’s dark again / just like a spark”.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/GfITojs_mNg[/youtube]

The buoyant, weightless feeling of ‘Space Song’ is energized by a woozy guitar melody, which provides a foundation for its unresolved lyrical reverie: “tender is the night for a broken heart / who will dry your eyes when it falls apart? / what makes this fragile world go ‘round? / were you ever lost, was she ever found?” ‘Beyond Love’ is shaped by another piercing guitar melody, but gradually progresses into something more ethereal ahead of the atmospheric track ’10:37′. ‘PPP’ has a more prominent swaying rhythm, with the organic sound of live drums bookending the gentle interlude of ‘Wildflower’ on one side. On the other side, ‘Bluebird’ has a tapping percussion intro that sounds more like a woodpecker, but is softened by a beautiful keyboard melody and an easy, flowing harmonic progression.

The album closes with artfully layered choral vocals in ‘Days of Candy’. The wistful lyrical lines “I know it comes too soon, the universe is riding off with you / I want to know you there, the universe is riding off with you” take the imagination full circle, back to the elusive place described earlier in the album’s press release.

With only nine tracks and a concise 45-minute duration, ‘Depression Cherry’ focuses on Beach House’s cerebral artistic purpose without becoming self-indulgent or excessive. Each track works to evoke its own feeling and ambience as well as blending into the hazy, dreamy soundscape of the overall sequence. Opaque and shadowy around the edges, ‘Depression Cherry’ isn’t a precisely defined colour, but rather a delicately balanced continuum of dark and light.

8/10

Beach House’s fifth studio album ‘Depression Cherry’ is available now via Sub Pop.  Previous TGTF coverage of Beach House can be found right back here.

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