September Music Column

beachhouse_sq-73faed6c2ff32e823d28aed939d08b5043ce8565-s300-c85Beach House have long been an indie staple. Telling of their enshrinement, all but their debut album has received the coveted (if overrated) “best new music” designation from Pitchfork. Besides acclaim from a music site known for self-important “taste-making” and absurd snob-mongering, Beach House have seen rising popularity and a growing audience over the span of their existence. Part of this seems to have been a happy crossing with the gauzy electronic trends and chill wave zeitgeist of the mid-2000s, but the band has endured past this. The Baltimore duo, comprised of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, continues to evolve sonically. Their latest offering, enigmatically titled Depression Cherry, seems more thoughtful and measured than previous work, offering a satisfying continuation in the Beach House arc.

Most of the album focuses on mood and atmosphere, favoring long, drawn-out satisfaction over short wow-factors. This is true down to the arrangements—often synth chords and single notes are held out for entire tracks, stretching time and providing a laser beam on which the rest of the song is built. On “Levitation,” what starts out as a single note in the beginning is eventually engulfed in the ebb and flow of the music. By the time the song recedes, our single beam has split into a prismatic array of notes, droning highly on forever. In fact, the music creates a feeling that time has depth, rendering it more plush and less linear. This is due partly to the thick layering of guitars and synths that defines the style which Beach House grew to exemplify early on. Adding to the pleasant haze, reverb morphs the vocals into a soft voice from a dream dimension. In general, mood takes a central role in the music. Listening to the album feels like being an extra in a slow-motion movie about someone else’s life.

Amidst an array of experimental touches, the album is firmly rooted in pop music’s familiar forms, often hearkening back to its heritage. On “PPP,” the arching melodies, layered harmonies, and simple drum track that emphasizes the song’s 12/8 time signature round out the textbook elements of early doo-wop. Structurally, the majority of the songs follow a predictable form, while languorous chord progressions draw on for dramatic effect. For the most part, percussion seems to take a backseat, except on “10:37,” which represents a satisfying departure in this respect. The lyrics are often touchingly sensitive, as on “Space Song,” where Legrand reminds us “tender is the night for a broken heart.” While Beach House arguably play it safe in their adherence to familiar structures and ideas, this grounded quality allows them to explore atmosphere with other-worldly effects. It also allows for a record which is reliably good and relatively easy to listen to. Often sweet simplicity belies complex emotions and structures, and a close listen reveals the ambition of this album that may not be evident on the surface.

Overall, the music is not necessarily ground-breaking. What Beach House does best is expertly meld their materials, forging a sound that is so smooth and sinuous it’s hard not to appreciate. The achievements of soft texture and soaring atmosphere make Depression Cherry perfectly suited to stretching out on a soft lawn and watching clouds and dreams float on in the sky.

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