The following is my submission to a contest hosted by Phoenix's popular record store, Stinkweeds, inviting reviews of Beach House's Depression Cherry for a chance to win an exclusive version of the album on vinyl. I lost, but WAS named runner-up, which is cool.
“Where do they go from here?” It’s been a legitimate question to ask along the timeline of magnificent Beach House productions. The Baltimore duo has, impressively, been able to answer that question quite resoundingly with each release. After achieving a modern masterpiece with their Sub Pop debut, Teen Dream, Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand doubled down on their dream pop progression with Bloom, taking the band from the quiet comfort of indie darlings to, if not the mainstream, something more ambitious. Never has the “Where do they go from here?” question been more apropos than following Bloom; assuredly something grander than that would weigh the “dream pop” scale too heavily to the latter. (And by the way, while some may meet the dream pop label with an eye roll, I’m sorry—it fits Beach House like a velvet glove.)
Where they went from there is Depression Cherry, the first album that doesn’t answer its predecessor resoundingly. Rather, it’s a slow burn of a response, or, more likely, not a response at all. Scally and Legrand, after all, don’t seem as concerned with their evolution as they are with making meaningful music, which has made their evolution natural and unforced. It’s easy to mistake the album as the duo retreating to the subtle nuances of their self-titled debut and sophomore effort—indeed, Depression Cherry seemingly fits better in between Devotion and Teen Dream than as a follow-up to Bloom—but the album is revelatory in its admission that less is more.
If the title doesn’t prove as much—“Depression Cherry” is pretty far from the burgeoning, overt beauty of something called “Bloom”—the opening track will. You can rightly expect “Levitation” to ascend, but it will only do what it promises: levitate. Whether you experience that as disappointment or delicate, refined splendor will ultimately determine how you perceive Depression Cherry. It’s my suspicion, if you’re listening to Beach House in the first place, you will opt for splendor.
That’s not to say the album is understated throughout. “PPP” and lead single “Sparks” are more authoritative in their mission. As someone who’s been mildly obsessed with Beach House’s penchant for making one track seem like two with an artful turn—for what it’s worth, I consider the latter part of “Used to Be” off Teen Dream among the most gorgeous slices of music I’ve heard—the elongated, guitar-aided conclusion of “PPP” is a wonder. Still, the riffs of “Beyond Love” and steady tick of “Bluebird” are carefully crafted, something you grow to adore as they remain in your subconscious like, oh I don’t know … a dream.
In interviews coinciding with the album’s release, Legrand maintains that the songwriting is interpretative, definable only to the listener. And I don’t interpret Depression Cherry to be depressing at all. Indeed, on “Levitation,” when Legrand croons, in her signature, haunted best, “There’s a place I want to take you,” it’s a cordial invite to a mysterious yet exquisite landscape. But depression itself is something beneath the surface, something that transcends the hallow pleasures of everyday life, and that’s where Beach House has always made its bones. This album might be the cherry on top of that aesthetic, perfectly nestling itself within an enchanting catalog.
A good friend of mine introduced me to my wife. He also, a few years later, introduced me to Beach House. There are times I feel almost as indebted to him for the latter as I do the former. It was love at first sight in both cases. Is that a tired cliché? Beach House might think so, which may explain why Depression Cherry is not as easily recognizable. Rather, it cordially invites you to something deeper. Something, as one of its tracks suggests, beyond love. The journey is quite worth it, even if it leaves you with the nagging question, “Where do they go from here?”