Since their self-titled 2006 debut, fans of Beach House have learned what to expect from their albums, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Depression Cherry, the latest album from Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, is a comfortable showcase of what the duo does best: silky, immersive dream-pop. They have perfected a soothing melancholy that is showcased in the album’s opening track, the lush, wistful ‘Levitation’.
Scally and Legrand move into more unfamiliar ground on ‘Sparks’, the album’s single and standout track. Overlapping murmuring gives way to a fuzz of electric guitar-lines that recall (even more than usual) the warped force of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’. The track feels unusually visceral; with more space for noise and abrasion than the duo usually allow themselves. That soft-edged chaos is present in the song’s lyrics, which speak of urban destruction,
“We drive around this town/houses melting down”
Although it would probably be a mistake to draw real-world conclusions from Beach House’s eerie and ambiguous lines, it’s hard not to wonder if they had in mind the state of emergency that was declared earlier this year in their hometown of Baltimore.
‘Sparks’ is an outlier rather than a pattern in ‘Depression Cherry’ and the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to its promise. Songs like ‘Beyond Love’ could fit comfortably on their previous album, 2012’s ‘Bloom’. Like that album, it’s pleasant but not particularly memorable. The unexpected sour notes in ‘Sparks’ disappear as the album progresses. That may feel initially disappointing, but by the time the minimalist rhythm of ’10:37’ kicks in, Legrand and Scally have drawn you back into their mesmeric, complex yet careful world. No song exemplifies their delicately contained sound better than the album’s closer, ‘Days of Candy’. The track begins with an intro that could be taking place inside a cathedral- no coincidence, given the band’s reliance on the organ as their instrument of choice- before giving way to a fuller, sweeter melody.
‘Beach House’ has always been an absurd misnomer for a band that acts as the perfect soundtrack to staying awake and driving around alone at midnight. When Legrand sings “it was late at night” at the beginning of ‘Space Song’, it feels almost unnecessary. Beach House have a knack for songcraft that mark them apart from some of their shoegazy predecessors. Rather than just making appealing vowel-sounds to complement their melody, the duo’s lyrics, and Legrand’s distinctive voice, form an integral part of their appeal. In the same song she double-tracks the refrain ‘fall back into place’ in such a way that the second voice is out of synch but not quite an echo; the result is a strange and effective sense of motion, one that suggests that the song was built around that line, rather than vice versa.
Listening to ‘Depression Cherry’, you could legitimately complain that the duo could have pushed into more ambitious territory, but when Beach House make introspection so absorbing and satisfying, it feels a little ungrateful to ask them to change.