By DUBRAY KINNEY For The News-Letter
Beach House, a dream-pop duo from Baltimore comprised of guitarist Alex Scally and vocalist Victoria Legrand, released its fifth album titled Depression Cherry on Aug. 28. As a band, Beach House has its formula down to a science.
Their brand of ethereal dream-pop manifests itself in this new release and easily finds a home within an overarching music industry that seems to be increasingly interested in merging the obscure and the mainstream.
Knowing that this latest album remains safely in Beach House’s wheelhouse comes as both a triumph for the band and a disappointment. It’s a triumph in that this is a solid dream-pop record, and it’s a record that will most definitely continue to receive spins around the college radio scene.
The disappointment comes from this being an album that a fan would expect Beach House to make, consequently removing any element of surprise.
After their eponymous debut album’s warm reception in 2006, Beach House began to carve a niche within the quieter parts of the music industry as the new breed of dream-pop.
Scally and Legrand affect the same breathy vocals, soft guitar riffs and wistful lyrics that one would associate from the genre but simultaneously evoke a certain sense of experimentation — a trait that previous bands didn’t lack, but one that Beach House took to another level.
The band followed this debut with three other albums, each well-received, including 2010’s Teen Dream which gathered much critical-acclaim and landed on several year-end album rankings in multiple publications, including Rolling Stone and Pitchfork.
Depression Cherry opens strongly with the introductory track “Levitation,” which serves as a great welcome to the album. Legrand sings, “You should see there’s a place I want to take you,” which metaphorically works as a sort of outstretched hand, inviting listeners to the next eight tracks.
From there the album leaps to its next track and first real stumble. The lead-off single, “Sparks,” feels like homage to dream-pop’s heavier sister genre known as shoegaze, an alternative rock style characterized by feedback and obscured vocals in order to create layered “walls of sound.” The guitar riffs on this track could be found in songs by other shoegaze artists such as My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Outside of the context of the album, “Sparks” is a good song, but within the greater tapestry of the album it represents a step forward and a real sense of progression in an album that is steeped in Beach House doing what it does best. This song gives a glimpse of the band’s possible future because it sticks out in an otherwise formulaic release.
Despite this anomaly, the stretch of songs following “Sparks” are pure, dream-pop goodness. It’s not outside the comfort zone of anyone who routinely likes dream-pop, and it’s a testament to how well the duo can produce a magical feel in every song from “Space Song” to “Days of Candy.”
In particular, the four-song stretch of “Space Song,” “Beyond Love,” “10:37” and “PPP” could go down as one of the stronger mid-portions of any album this year, with “Space Song” serving as a softer, catchier introduction to this middle portion and “PPP” ushering in the latter half of the album with its wistful riffs.
The final three songs of the album aren’t particularly strong with the exception of “Days of Candy.” Yet they don’t hurt the appeal of the overall album. Instead, they feel a bit more aimless compared to the album’s tighter focus at its mid-portion, although the final songs enjoyably herald in the album’s conclusion.
“Days of Candy” is a song that works with the band’s entire strengths. It heavily features the presence of Legrand’s vocals as well as Scally’s instrumentation. It begins with a choral harmonization and is completely carried by the quality of Legrand’s vocals for the earlier portion. As the track continues, the sound moves into more traditional instrumentation. The final riffs play, the music slowly fades out and Beach House’s fifth release is called to a clean close.
Overall, Depression Cherry displays minor growth in this selection of songs, but other than perhaps “Sparks,” the remaining eight songs of this album could easily be found on any of the other four albums in the band’s catalog. That says nothing about the quality of the songs but more so about the lack of growth that the band has shown.
The disappointment also stems from the overall strength of 2015 as a year in music. This is a year in which multiple other artists have released material that seek to show their continued evolution as musicians, whether it be the latest from Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar or Sufjan Stevens.
In “Space Song,” Legrand sings a chorus which includes the line “Fall back into place,” and this album shows Beach House doing just that.