Dream pop, Indie duo Beach House are releasing their fifth album Depression Cherry on August 28, the follow up to the critically acclaimed 2012 Bloom. On this latest release the duo circles back to the simplicity of their first releases, the self titled debut and Devotion. Depression Cherry sports haunting melodies, fewer instruments and scant use of the drum, in contrast to Bloom which was more aggressive and guitar driven. The duo describe their intent as follows;” for us “Depression Cherry” is a color, a place, a feeling, an energy… that describes the place you arrive at as you move through the endless varied trips of existence…”. The album it is an enticing sonic journey that in returning to the origins of Beach House actually progresses somewhere even more exciting.
Beach House was formed in 2004 by French born singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi –instrumentalist Alex Scally. They established themselves in Scally’s hometown of Baltimore Md. The title of their band came after attempts to come up with something really intellectual failed. Scally stated, “Once we stopped trying it just came out and seemed perfect.” Beach House from the initial release of their self titled debut have received significant critical acclaim which continued through to their 2008 release Devotion and garnered them a spot on Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2008 list. Their third effort Teen Dream is considered by many their commercial break through. The disc’s dynamic and intense sound gained them many fans and accolades, and they again appeared on Pitchfork’s top 50 albums of 2010 at the #5 spot. Beach House has become known for the core characteristics of slow mo beats, hazy droning keyboards, rippling guitars and Legrand’s melancholy vocals. In 2012 the duo released Bloom which again met with critical acclaim and produced the singles Myth, Lazuli and Wishes. They also released the film Forever Still in 2013 which featured the band performing songs from Bloom. Their intent was to make a quality promotional creation they could artistically control. The band has also been a major popular presence as festival performers appearing at some of the leading international events; Coachella, Glastonbury, SXSW, Austin City Limits Musical Festival and Fuji Rock.
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The duo is renowned for being skeptical about anything they view as diluting their artistic integrity. In 2012 they turned down a distribution partnership with Starbucks to promote the release of Bloom. They have major concerns with solving the endless enigma of how to retain creditability in the feckless world of modern music, where that creditability can be wiped away at the speed of Twitter. That concern informs their work along with their dedication to stay true to their original convictions.
When asked about the recent state of modern music, Alex Scally said,” A lot of people listening to music now don’t listen to the songs or lyrics, they just go,’ Good tunes…’ and that is it. But we’re obsessed with songs and sometimes I feel like people aren’t listening to our songs they are just listening to sound.” This concern brought the pair to “Studio in the Country” in Bogalusa, Louisiana to work on what would become Depression Cherry. Together with their long time producer Chris Coady they have produced an album that shape shifts as it examines love, pain, getting older and dealing with lose and letting go. They also returned to their natural musical tendencies with the organ and synths once again taking center stage. On the release they display an expanding musical sensibility metamorphosing into an assured emotional force. “Depression Cherry” is infused throughout with confessional and emotionally moving moments. The song Levitation begins the disc with a techno droning opening. It is a song gentle and caressing in feeling. The sumptuous synthesizers induce a feeling of floating in keeping with the title. All the components of the song make for a crystalline gorgeous song.
Sparks begins with a chanting backing track and a delightful guitar rift. The off kilter oscillating synth and heart beat processed drum combine with the breathless vocal to send the song off into the ether. The lyrics speak to moving on in hope after the end of a relationship. Equating a kiss to the spark of life that is needed after the death of a desired dream. It is a satisfying and beautiful composition.
Space Song is the perfect accompaniment to a French film on a rainy day. It is Legrand at her most Nico with lyrics like, “What makes this fragile world go round, were you ever lost, was she ever found… you wide eyed girls get it right.” The wavy old time organ married to the drum loop really showcase an engaging song, reminding me of Massive Attack, Ultraista and Portishead’s works.
Beyond Love is a track that is almost impossible to shake off. It is a song that asks hard questions about the unknown, faith and belief. It ponders what happens to the love we create when the end comes? “The last thing she sees before they turn off all the lights… we really want to know… All I know is what I see … could you ever believe?” The song’s structure is simple and complimented by blarry synths, off kilter guitars and glorious reverb, which all elevate it onto a higher level. Beach house makes this song seem easy but I doubt any one else could replicate the atmosphere lyrically and sonically created in this scintillating song.
10:37 takes all the duo’s percussive composition skills out for a walk. It is a lovely hypnotic meditation on fleeting time. The centerpiece of the song is the ticking clock percussion as it backs up these amazing vocal runs by Legrand and makes for something unique. This is followed up by PPP a song where Legrand channels all her inner Kate Bush. This song would fit perfectly on the b side of Bush’s legendary Hounds of Love. The song examines loss, “did you see it coming, it happened so fast, the timing was perfect, water on glass…” There is a sense of gliding timeless eternity, a free fall into infinity.
The beautiful Wildflower follows and contains deep thoughts hidden within its beautiful sonic composition. Bluebird has a more industrial sound with an insistent beat. The song is mediation on watching a bluebird and is an ode to the natural beauty and how it can move a person with its loveliness.
The entire album is wondrous but the duo saves the best for last with the glorious Days of Candy. It begins with a Greek chorus of voices that accompany Legrand’s vocals. The song is a breathe taking track. It intertwines the bittersweet with melancholy yearning as it is in parts evocative and elegiac while examining life’s fleeting passing; “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…just like that it is gone.” This song will haunt you and is my favorite of the release. Reminding me of the Poet Anne Sexton’s work in ‘The Awful Rowing Towards God” where to paraphrase “The Rowing Endeth”, We spend our lives waiting for the eternity to ride off with us as we row to its shore.
Beach House has a back catalogue of worthy releases, and in going back to their origins they have actually stepped up their game on Depression Cherry. They do not shy away from confronting big questions and deep emotions, all the while producing beautiful music and make it seem so simple. Few artists can present such introspective thoughts about our existence in such a beautiful package, but Beach House does it time and again.