Amateur photographer Patrick Joust’s lonely photos of the city of Baltimore late at night seem to offer a new understanding of the music of Beach House. The duo of singer and keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally, who are also based in Baltimore, seem to exist in their own world, outside of the expectations and outside influences that often plague indie bands of their stature. They continue to follow their muse and conjure their gorgeous, glacial ballads.
The band’s fifth album, Depression Cherry continues in the decidedly abstract vein of the last two Beach House records, but reins in some of the grandiosity that sometimes marred 2012’s Bloom. The album’s first single, “Sparks” is the noisiest thing that the duo have done since their rather primitive-sounding 2006 debut, but it reveals an underlying sophistication that is very characteristic of Beach House.
At the climax of “Sparks,” a great wash of inseparable sounds crashes against your ear – guitars, bass, keyboards and singer Victoria Legrand’s smoky voice layered for eternity – but it feels as natural as ocean waves. The music on Depression Cherry is huge, but not self-consciously so. It lifts you up without even trying.
“Levitating ‘cause we want to,” Legrand sings on the jaw-dropping opener “Levitation.” Never has a song been as accurately titled as that one. An organ ostinato dapples Legrand’s vocal: “I go anywhere you want to.” Buoyed by great clouds of sound, she’s not bound to the earth, but ascending skyward throughout the entire song, which is an abstract but still powerful promise of love.
Like the field of speckled red on the album’s cover, Depression Cherry is expansive and soft. But within their formula, the band finds tiny pockets in which they can explore new things while still keeping the record cohesive. Elements like the spacey analogue synth arpeggio that characterises “Space Song,” the tender speak-singing and 6/8 60s pop rhythm of “PPP” and the blocky drum machine rhythm and soulful melody of “Bluebird” keep things moving at a steady and engaging pace.
The most astonishing moment on the record comes with “10:37,” which is almost entirely unlike anything the band have done before. Stripping away much of their characteristic sounds – the hissing hi-hats and thick organ tones – in favour of a booming beat, grumbling bass, floating voices and deep chasms of silence proves that Beach House’s distinctive sound is more than just a trick of clever production.
With its hints of distortion (particularly on “Sparks” and the syrupy “Beyond Love”) Depression Cherry is rougher around the edges than the rest of the band’s work, but somehow still more nuanced. On the rapturous closer “Days of Candy,” Beach House are joined by singers from Pearl River Community College to create a dreamy gospel sound. At once it is both minimalist and monumental.
Beach House seem reluctant to move away from their signature sound, but Depression Cherry proves that they don’t have to. The record is a singular entity, and yet still unmistakably the work of the same band. They don’t take any major risks, but when you’re this capable of producing otherworldly pop masterpieces, why would you?
Depression Cherry is out now on CD, vinyl and digital formats. Stream it here.