Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Depression Cherry" reveals subtle new shades in Beach House's sonic palette

Music enthusiasts get bored very easily.  Concoct a sound that excites and engages people the first time around, and you just might find yourself getting bored and disappointed reactions if you try the same thing a few years later.  It's a miracle, then, that Beach House has been able to a critical darling for so long, given their firm stance on not changing their sound.  They entered the world in 2006 with a specific musical sensibility on their debut album, and on the three albums they released afterward -- each two years after the previous one -- they expanded their sonic range incrementally with every new offering.  Tiny as they may have been, those additions were just enough to keep them on the right side of the critical tide, and though there has been some grumbling in recent years about their signature sound, most listeners haven't tired of it.

More so than ever before, people are going to tell you that their latest album Depression Cherry is the point where Beach House has finally become stale, that they haven't changed things up enough this time around.  This review is here to tell you that those people are wrong.  It's an understandable viewpoint, however -- the band's trajectory has been marked by a slow swelling of their sound, but Depression Cherry pares things back from the widescreen dream pop of the veritable Bloom.  Though they may have scaled down, the album doesn't feel like a step backward.  A new, eerie sci-fi tinge runs through songs like "Beyond Love," which centers around a crystalline guitar line that could puncture granite.  It's clear that the duo is cognizant of these influences in "Space Song," a track whose floaty weightlessness sounds like the score to walking on the surface of the moon for the first time.

And how could anybody accuse an album that contains "Sparks" of not being exciting enough?  There's a reason why it was chosen as the first single; it feels as if it's charging out of your speakers from the first note.  My Bloody Valentine has always been a band that Beach House has made wide circles around, but they've never targeted them in the way that "Sparks," with its squealing guitar line and smeared synths, does.  It's a dazzling, interesting new direction for them to take.

As ever, lead singer Victoria Legrand's voice is the force that pulls you into these songs.  After all these years, her vocals still have that ineffable ability to lull you into a trance.  She's less likely to let out a full-mouthed howl than she was on previous albums; this time around her voice has a soft, pillowy effect, resting deep within the Yamaha wash.  Legrand's showcase is without a doubt album-centerpiece "PPP," a towering beauty of a track where she alternates between bewitching spoken word verses and a haunting sway in the chorus.  She has a way of drilling her melodies into your head, until that soft coo is rattling around in the deepest recesses of your brain.  In contrast, the actual words she sings have a slightly impenetrable quality to them.  But that doesn't make them off-putting, it just adds to the aura and mystique of these songs about the inscrutable nature of love and desire.

The songs on Depression Cherry are a little more subtle than Beach House has been in their last few offerings.  Again, it's not hard to see why many are confusing it as a letdown, but the true pleasures of this record hide in the pockets and corners of songs.  Tracks build quietly, melodies and hooks sneak around just below the surface, only becoming crystal clear after a dozen listens.  You may have to walk a longer way to reach the rewards of this album, but once you get there, it will welcome you with open arms.

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