Album Review: Beach House - Depression Cherry

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

There's a highly discernible trajectory between the first four albums by Baltimore dream pop act Beach House, from the bedroom whispers of their debut to the mountaintops of Bloom, the duo have, with each subsequent effort, come a bit more out of their shell, turning up the volume, fleshing out textures, and adding more reverb increasingly massive drums and Alex Scally's harrowing guitars all leading up to the climactic Bloom finale "Irene", in which vocalist and organist Victoria Legrand remarks over and over again that "it's a strange paradise". Truly, every Beach House offering - each indubitably perfect in its own way - is a completely representative snapshot of where they find themselves at that time.

If that trajectory was to be followed for a new record, Beach House would find themselves amongst the satellites, playing spacey pop for the gods in a hazy blur of golden light. Furthermore, this celestial place would be the prime spot for Beach House to place themselves in 2015, in a landscape with impressively little room for quieter statements like Devotion and Teen Dream. But alas, Alex and Victoria do not find themselves in the stars. Instead, they give us Depression Cherry, a record with only a shade to its name that backs off on the volume knobs and chooses to make a carefully placed footprint barely audible in the crowded pop context surrounding them. The drums have been brought back to the stuttering organ accompaniment of the days of old. The organs outnumber the guitars much of the time. It is a collection of lullabies for the melancholy. And yet, in no way does Depression Cherry feel like a backpedal. Beach House paint a bigger picture in the margins, and remind us to feel before we jump to call the moments of our lives experience. Following up Teen Dream Cream and Blooming Black, Depression Cherry hands us the next in Beach House's paradoxical box of Crayola colors, giving us a time to be small in a world obsessed with feeling larger than life.

"There's a place I want to take you where the unknown will surround you... because there is no right time." That cadence from six minute opener "Levitation" puts Beach House on a heady red cloud from page 1. There's a place - it's beautiful and it's a place that you take the ones you love - but it's filled with anxiety and fear of unknowing. Love isn't easy, and it sure as hell isn't comfortable. That may the biggest general theme of Beach House's newest outing. In sharp contrast to the wide-eyed daydreaming of Bloom, Depression Cherry is quite grounded in its lyrical approach, tending towards heavy ultimatums and fear of slipping away for the majority of the first half of the record. On the second half, the subtle groove of "Wildflower" and "Bluebird" attempt to free the mind of its preconceived notions of bounded love in time, but in "Days of Candy", the conclusion leans back on the concrete evidence of the sparks flown and the falling back into place. Depression Cherry is no pick-me-up record like the summery pop grooves decorating it's predecessor, but it makes up for the hooks with honesty. Tracks like "10:37" cut the layers out to paint the most vivid picture of love idealized versus love realized. It's a real-world presence that Beach House is rarely associated with (see: dream-pop). But here, they seem so fit for it. Breaking form and breaking expectation, Depression Cherry is a fitter offering than any fans could have pieced together in their minds.

Lead single "Sparks" is a fuzz-heavy shoe-gaze burner that puts Alex on another planet as far as Beach House riffs go. But the fuzz doesn't last long before the haunted droning of the organ swoops in over top. The noise-level of the rest of the record never quite reaches "Sparks", but it doesn't need to. "Sparks" is the emotional freak-out of the record, whereas, the rest of the it forms a long coming-down. "Beyond Love" with its pinched reverberations takes a close second, but the modest breakup song does little to give off the enflamed heat of "Sparks". By the time we reach the album's third "single" offering "PPP", we are back to the spinster triplets of classics like "Zebra". Depression Cherry takes a more minimal approach than both Bloom and Teen Dream, and instead forces the listener to find beauty and solace in the details. Herein, you'll find some of the best songwriting Victoria and Alex have put together - these are really, really wonderful songs with wonderfully delicate arrangements. Beach House consciously choose a musical setting that fits their heavier lyrical content and musings, and it befits the presentation of the record beautifully.

As per the usual, Beach House wait until the final cut to make the tears really start to roll. "Days of Candy" is perhaps the polar opposite of "Irene" from Bloom and a sort of inverse of "Take Care" from Teen Dream. In this slow churning round, Victoria resolves to live inside the mind if she wants the sweetness of love to last. It's no strange paradise - in fact, it's a twisted illusion. But it's one that gives comfort in the fleeing nature of love and of life. "Just like that, it's gone", she croons in complete brokenness. There, as the knife plunges deeper into the cherry-red heart, a live kit of drums finally emerges from the waters (otherwise, so far on the record, we've only had majority metronomic drum machines) and the ultimatum becomes a resolution. It's not a happy one, but it's an honest one - one that paints the world exactly as it is in a single color. "I know it comes too soon, the universe is riding off with you", Victoria sings. It's the way of the world, painful and droning as it is, but the mantra is all we have. On Depression Cherry, Beach House paint this mantra as a mood, represented in the physical realm as a velvet shade of red. It's not an exhaustive description, and it offers little in terms of solution, but maybe there's only the feeling. Again and again on Depression Cherry, Beach House challenge you only that much: to feel. If you follow their call, you'll find yourself in their rolling red hills, soaking in the melancholy and finding a way to call it your own. It's a lovely place, if a bit sad, and I don't think they would have it any other way.

Depression Cherry is out this week on Sub Pop Records. Grab it at your local record store on CD or fuzzy vinyl (you've never felt Beach House until you've felt Beach House red velvet felt). The band is touring extensively in support of the new record, starting now and running through the end of the year, but unfortunately, no Pacific Northwest dates have been announced at this time. Check back to their website for more details in the future, and to build a dream setlist for the show of your choosing.

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