Wallow in the Afterglow
Rafi Alam reviews Beach House’s mesmerizing new album Depression Cherry.
For a band with many accolades, moderate commercial success, and a loyal fan following, Beach House can be woefully underrated. Critics can’t help but point out the same-sameness of their music over five albums, almost in glee, as if it were a gotcha moment. And to critics who wait for that new rock band to release its sophomore dance record, or cherish every time a rapper collaborates with a country musician, this might be so. But Beach House’s musical consistency is a strength, not a weakness; by building a formidable template for their music, their subtle tinkering opens the door to unexplored soundscapes and new progressions in their genre, rewarding listeners who bother to find out.
Where Teen Dream felt like opening the windows and letting the sun in after the narcotics-haze of Devotion, Depression Cherry is the afterglow to the explosions and fireworks of Bloom—there are noticeably, and intentionally according to their label Sub Pop, less live drums and an intensified focus on looped melodies, particularly the use of synthesised organs. The tracks on Cherry, unlike Bloom or Teen Dream, don’t end on the crescendos Beach House are well known for, because the emotions aren’t ecstatic or overwhelming; instead, Lagrande and Scally perform as though they are ruminating on particular experiences, trying to vocalise speechless moments. These are not the big fantastic dreams of the past, but the small terrors and discomforts that can come during sleep, to the point Lagrande sings “Beyond love / I wanted to find ever since I didn’t understand / They take the simple things inside you / And put nightmares in your hands.” In “Sparks”, a grungy, distorted guitar bookends the track, and the song leans towards shoegaze rather than the usual dream pop tones, while still incorporating the unique lush vocals that ebb in and out. In “PPP”, Lagrande moves between her signature deep voice and a wasted Kim Gordonesque spoken word style.
These, and other examples, of new elements introduced in Depression Cherry, are in fairness few compared to the general sound of the band. But their willingness to only push the boundaries of their music and not overthrow them is a testament to the group’s confidence in their own style and musical abilities. The same band, with largely the same palette used in all their albums, go from Teen Dream youthfulness and vibrancy to the sad remembrance of lost youth in Depression Cherry closer “Days of Candy”, an album highlight. A failure to properly appreciate the powerful implications of Beach House’s changes over time is a failure to recognise how they have come to dominate and practically adopt the dream pop genre. In some ways, Beach House can be seen as a long-term project to keep the genre alive, a genre obsessed with producing particular and persistent emotions than reinventing itself; a genre where, frankly, there could be fewer differences between bands than there are between Beach House albums. Without going overboard, Beach House has long perfected its craft, in the studio and live, and is now insisting it is still perfect, and it is. Few other bands have consistently released albums that satisfy the wait while not feeling redundant or uncalled for.
The incremental evolutions in the band’s sound don’t just exist to defend the band’s place as a seminal indie act. It also just makes the sound better. The group teases you in many ways, dropping tempo in tracks where you expected they would begin their climax. The lyrics that were once hopeful would become bittersweet—“Tender is the night / For a broken heart / Who will dry your eyes / When it falls apart?” The album doesn’t end in a bang, it drifts off to sleep. Beach House, perhaps matured in age, knows they don’t need to leave your ears ringing, heart pounding, and wanting more; they are happy to rest for now, and return later with another perfect album.
Depression Cherry is out via Mistletone on August 28th.