It’s probably been a bit of a long summer for the members of Beach House, for whoever handles their A&R at Sub Pop, and for whoever thought it would be a neat idea to leak the band’s fifth album, Depression Cherry, an astounding nine weeks in advance of its August 28 street date.
This, really, only rivals their last album, Bloom, leaking roughly the same amount of time in advance of its May 2012 release date.
The rumor on the Internet is that an intern at Spin magazine is responsible for it, but really these major indie labels—Merge, Matador, and Sub Pop all have a real security issue when it comes to their marquee name releases showing up online well in advance of when they are supposed to hit the streets. It calls to mind the early days of P2P file sharing and things like Hail to The Thief leaking two or three months in advance, and everyone flipping out about the state of the music industry because of it.
So needless to say, I’ve had quite a bit of time to sit with Beach House’s Depression Cherry, an album with a title I can’t quite determine if I like yet or not. But it’s not really the title that matters so much as it is the nine songs found within its confines.
Beach House are commonly described as a “dream pop” duo, and on their last two albums—the big budget, huge sounding Bloom and 2010’s Teen Dream, the focus was on the latter—“pop.” They were pop records with clear focus and hooks for days. They were accessible listens, and at times, damn near fun, which is an odd thing to say when you were talking about a band who, up until 2009, had released two very off-kilter, lo-fi, frustrating records.
Depression Cherry finds Beach House focusing on the “dream” aspect of their theoretical genre; it’s an album that is primarily all tension and little, if no, release. While playing it in the car, my wife commented on how it reminded her of the Juliee Cruise contributions to the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack, and she has a point. While there are still moments of pop (check the lead single “Sparks”) the album teeters into inaccessibility, and shifts into the ethereal, hazy, and swooning.
Keyboard player, lyricist and vocalist Victoria LeGrande has always leaned into the metaphorical and the ambiguous when it comes to her writing—though when “Levitation,” the opening track on the album begins, you can’t help but feel like Depression Cherry finds Beach House at what could possibly be their most self-aware; or at least, their most personal and comfortable, with very open ended nods to what could be considered lyrics about life on the road, the band’s audiences, and what it’s like to spend all your time with one other person in a creative relationship.
Part of the flack they caught on Bloom from some people was that they had settled into “that Beach House sound,” and it’s kind of like, well shit—what do you expect from the heirs to the Cocteau Twins dream pop throne? A Beach House record is going to have a lot of similar elements to it that make it sound like a Beach House record. So part of the conceit of Depression Cherry is the band retreating into itself, in a sense—harkening back to the early days of the group (less than ten years ago, mind you) but still having that Sub Pop money to throw around while crafting the sonic landscape—less bombastic and “huge,” but still crisp and expensive sounding.
Another thing that is pretty noticeably, sonically speaking, with Depression Cherry is how it’s not a guitar driven record. Alex Scally’s thickly reverbed and delayed guitar playing was a major factor in both Teen Dream’s and Bloom’s sound. Here there are moments where the guitar is noticeable—like the distorted bursts that serve as the hook on “Sparks,” but it becomes so subtle in other moments that it just tucks itself in as another layer under LeGrande’s vintage keyboard and organ sounds, only adding to that whole ethereal, Lynch-ian quality to parts of the record.
Part of the thing that made Teen Dream such a successful record was how it was pretty flawlessly sequenced. Even the tracks that weren’t as strong as others still worked, per se, especially in the order of the album from start to finish. Bloom was, for the most part, worked the same way, however it started to slow down gradually within the final third.
Depression Cherry is unevenly sequenced—frontloaded with all of its best material, and losing steam with “PPP,” a song that inexplicably begins with a spoken word introduction. The slow burning “Wildflower” and the beat heavy “Bluebird” try their best to restart the album’s energy, but as it slides into its final moments, it’s clear that the A side is comprised of the album’s strongest tracks—“Space Song” is equally as catchy as “Sparks,” juxtaposing the band’s early lo-fi beginnings musically, while honing their Bloom-era songwriting abilities.
As a whole, Depression Cherry is not a huge step back for the band’s momentum, but it’s also not a huge step forward. That sounds, at first, like Beach House has remained stagnant, but that’s not the case. It’s not nearly as immediate of a listen as Teen Dream, nor as urgent of a listen as Bloom; it calls to mind the restrained, whispered, initial slow growing moments for the duo.
It’s the sound of a band that has grown comfortable enough with themselves over the last nine years that they don’t need to make some gigantic artistic leap every time they make a record. Beach House, in a sense, have made precisely the type of record that Beach House would make at this point in their career, and sometimes, that’s all you need from a band.
Kevin also writes for the super excellent Anhedonic Headphones.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he’s been contributing to Bearded Gentlemen; and for nearly as long, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine. Since the summer of 2017, he began contributing “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing has also appeared in The Wagazine, and in River Valley Woman. He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.