Album Review: Beach House, ‘Depression Cherry’
All too often, the idea that all musicians "borrow" from other musicians is invoked in order to justify blatant theft. The truth is that there's a tremendous difference between wearing your influences on your sleeve and straight-up ripping someone off. Sure, it can be a fine line sometimes, but on an intuitive level it's rather easy to recognize genuine creative inspiration, i.e: when an artist channels their influences into something that's unmistakably their own. Likewise, you can spot creative bankruptcy from a mile away because no one's fooled when an artist does the musical equivalent of dressing a mannequin in someone else's clothes and trying to pass that off as flesh-and-blood art.
Bands like Beach House compel us to question not only which camp they belong to, but where we fall in terms of our own ethics and taste. Any which way, it's impossible to deny that the Baltimore dream pop duo presents its audience with a feast for the ears with every new album. No surprise, then, that on a purely sensory level, the band's fifth album Depression Cherry strikes an almost innately pleasing chord. However familiar you are with Beach House's most apparent influences -- the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, the Velvet Underground, Beach Boys, Hawaiian music, etc. -- Depression Cherry hits unprecedented heights of production polish with its gleaming tones.
That said, much of the new material stands on its own and demands to be enjoyed in its own right. Most of Depression Cherry consists of stripped-down arrangements, a conscious effort on the part of organist/frontwoman Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally to simplify and tone-down their approach in contrast their previous two albums Teen Dream and Bloom. They also mostly forego live drums in favor of lacey electronic rhythm patterns that highlight the gentle intricacy of the songs. (They explained as much in an official statement on the Sub Pop site.) But rather than end up with frostier, more barren music, Depression Cherry feels warm and full, each instrument luxuriating in the duo's renewed appreciation for space.
Legrand and Scally could have easily opted to make these new songs sound empty. Instead, they left themselves ample room for their individual character to shine through what in the past often came off as a heavy-handed ambition to capture the sonic vocabulary of their forebears. With Depression Cherry, they inch closer to peers like the Besnard Lakes and other groups that arguably had more of a balance between inspiration and innovation right out of the gate. When you can listen to an album and feel like its constituent influences fall away as irrelevant, that's when you know that you're hearing something with genuine soul. Finally, under all the exterior markings, we're beginning to see what's been inside Beach House's heart all along.