Around the time of Beach House’s sparse, rickety début in 2006 and during the early years of their career, the marketplace, or at least the musical universe of the indie blognoscenti, at times seemed awash with kindred duos, peddling a certain brand of hazy, Instagram-filtered dreampop. Yet while many fell by the wayside, or at least failed to live up to early promise, this Baltimore duo have only grown in stature and acclaim, blossoming over the run of albums from their second, the crisp, elegiac Devotion, to 2012’s opulent and appropriately-entitled Bloom.
Although the themes and sounds that singer/keyboard player Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally deal in have largely remained the same, what has been immediately noticeable as they have moved from each album to the next is a widening of the sonic palette, from the skeletal drum machine, organ and slide guitar of Beach House and Devotion to the addition of live drums on the mesmerising Teen Dream and Bloom’s spotlighting of synthesiser and Scally’s sparkling arpeggios. So, three years on, does Legrand and Scally’s fifth album, the cryptically-named Depression Cherry, see a further bolstering and polishing, or is it a return to the etiolated, enveloping lushness of their early releases?
Well, a little from column A, and a little from column B. Lyrically, we’re still visiting some fairly familiar territories: failed relationships figure largely in the nine songs here. “Who will dry your eyes when it falls apart?” Legrand sings on Space Song, delving further on PPP – “It won’t last forever, or maybe it will, the white clothes they gave you, you wear them so well” – and Sparks, where it may not just be love, but hope itself that “goes dark again, just like a spark”.
Of the musical elements retained from the duo’s early albums, there are brittle machine drums and constant keyboard drones throughout the opening Levitation and the gorgeous Beyond Love – which swoons with the disquieting tranquillity of the love songs from Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet – while a keening slide guitar figures strongly on Space Song and the sweetly serene waltz of PPP. Legrand’s vocals too are as soft and rich as ever, and the layering of harmonies employed on the likes of Devotion’s Gila is used to quietly devastating effect on Levitation and taken to extremes by the funereal Days Of Candy, where Legrand and Scally are joined by eight singers from a community college choir.
However, while there’s a clarity and immediacy here that will certainly appeal to those who warmed to the icy sheen of Bloom more readily than its predecessors, there are occasional missteps in the march of progress that make this a slightly lesser entry in their output to date. Sparks, with its background loops of vocals and heavily distorted guitar, breathily invokes the sacred text of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless but doesn’t quite follow through, while the slightly syrupy Bluebird has ill-fitting shades of the coffee table comedown angst of The xx.
Minor nitpicking aside, this is a Beach House record that sounds, above all else, like a Beach House record, and we should be glad that this house was left standing and not swept away with the dreampop tide.