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Hype can sometimes be a double-edged sword. When Beach House announced their fifth album, Depression Cherry, indie rock fans went insane, and rightly so. Beach House have consistently released smooth, sensual, and polished dream pop albums since their debut, and have gained more and more success over the years with smash hits such as 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom. And with each new album, their sound grew bigger, more expansive, and became ever more saturated with reverb and effects, creating an all-encompassing atmosphere few modern bands can parallel. Which brings us to 2015, when the band dropped the first single from the album, “Sparks.” The track was met with rave reviews praising the duo’s new direction and citing the My Bloody Valentine influence in Victoria Legrand's voice and Alex Scally’s distorted guitar. And so buzz began to build. Will it be better than their previous albums? Will they go full-on shoegaze? No matter what, am I still going to pre-order it? And the answer to these questions is as follows: maybe, no, and yes of course.
See, “Sparks” was about as misleading as singles can get. Instead of thickening out their sound with more instrumentation, Beach House have gone back to the sound of 2008’s Devotion, less effects, simpler songwriting, and a more bedroom pop vibe. For better or for worse, Depression Cherry is not what it was expected to be, and that will obviously turn off some fans. But for those that appreciate the more personal sound of their earlier work, it’s an absolute treat.
From the first track, “Levitation,” you can hear exactly what they are going for. Hazy organ drones, subdued drum machines, two-note guitar chords, and the same bittersweet melancholia present throughout their discography. Next comes the aforementioned “Sparks.” It starts with looped samples of Victoria’s voice, ascending and descending into a hypnotic trance which is only broken by the sound of a sharp, burning, guitar lead and trademark organ riffs. Victoria’s voice is almost whispered, making it sound similar to Bilinda Butcher or Rachel Goswell. And when the chorus finally hits, it will be stuck in your head for days. “And then it’s dark again, just like a spaaaaaaaaaark...” Regardless of it’s misleading qualities, “Sparks” is an excellent song with just the right amount of experimentation.
Immediately following is the more traditional “Space Song.” And while it doesn’t provide the visceral pleasure of “Sparks,” it is a great song by it’s own right. The keyboard arpeggios during the intro and chorus remind one of “Lazuli” off of Bloom and the driving bassline throughout the verses is an excellent vehicle for Victoria’s dreamy lyrics. Most of what follows the first three tracks is standard Beach House faire, organ, guitar, drum machine, with some more instruments thrown in here and there. A few notable exceptions include “PPP,” “Bluebird,” and album closer “Days of Candy,” whose choral background vocals and piano playing show Beach House can write catchy dream pop without their typical effects.
While some may criticize Depression Cherry for not fitting their idea of “logical progression” for Beach House’s sound, the duo pulls together a thoroughly impressive and consistent project with a few standout moments that will no doubt be some of the year’s best songs for fans of the band or dream pop in general. While there could have been more “Sparks,” it doesn’t stop the band from creating fireworks.