Dream pop can often result in music all too literal: sleep inducing, painfully self-indulgent and reverb caked. As one of the leading trends in 21st century pop music, too much has fuzzy naval gazing been used as an excuse for lazy song writing and melody deficiency. Baltimore duo Beach House, as figureheads for the genre, however, have always managed to make the dream pop their imitators think their are: youthful and soaring without sacrificing detail or poetry. With four great albums to their name, the wonderfully titled Depression Cherry sees them a little more expansive, a little more mature, and as compelling as ever.
‘Levitation’ begins with very delicate synth arpeggios in gently rhythmic escalation and retreat, upon which gorgeous vocals harmonise. Twittering drum samples and electric guitar picks layer upon the song, along with sharp synth strikes: it’s a gently escalating song and only with this type of breakdown does its makeup become apparent. Beach House deals, as the best synth pop should, with concealment of it’s parts: melodies gaining pensiveness through undisclosed means, so that by the end of the song, with a soaring synth chord blaring, the tune has completely transformed, but it’s happened in plain sight, and the song’s sweep means that it’s hard to understand how it came about at all.
Leads single ‘Sparks’ sees the duo take note from Tame Impala’s song book; of pop music with an electronic producers approach, and indeed the track begins with a looped sample – something of a new phenomenon for Beach House, but it suits their sound perfectly. It’s a strangely aggressive song give its sweetness, thick guitars piling on the intensity. Meanwhile ‘Beyond Love’ and ‘Bluebird’ similarly ratchet up the electronics with purely synthetic percussion: an echo of their Teen Dream heyday.
Meanwhile lyrics on Depression Cherry are pretty and allegorical: “The branches of the trees?/They will hang lower now” lead vocalist Victoria Legrande sings on the ‘Levitation’, in a delicate metaphor for life slipping away in adolescence. She explained in a recent Pitchfork interview that “my heart is full of love, but I don’t have an interest in love songs that much anymore. What we need are love and break-up songs for people living with war and disease. We need giant love songs.” And indeed giant love songs are what we get, towering in song and open enough in lyrical content from them to mean anything, without slipping into vague meaninglessness. Love songs don’t often have much to do with the feeling of being in love – but that’s exactly where these songs are set; expansive enough to be applicable to any persons relationship “and it goes dark again, just like a spark” for example: that’s a perfect allegory for someone falling in love, but also someone falling out of it.
The album’s best song is easily one of the finest tracks ever produced by Beach House: the third song here, ‘Space Song.’ Deceptively simple synth arpeggios are stepped all over by a truly gorgeous guitar melody, wailing to the point that the song itself appears to be in pain. The track somehow actually sounds like a moonlit LA Highway, ready made for any David Lynch film, or phone commercial… Let’s hope the latter keeps their hands off of it. It’s a score just pretty enough to make lines like “What makes this fragile world go ’round?/?Were you ever lost?/Was she ever found?” as transfixing and starry eyed as their intention, rather than as cheesy as their potential.
‘Space Song’ is easily one of the finest Beach House have ever produced
The album unfortunately takes a dip with ‘10.37’, which features some nicely plucked guitar and some Vampire Weekend-esque vocal harmonies but the hook is as exciting as the track’s title and the lyrics too slight to lend them any context: the instrumental unusually thin also. ‘PPP’, standing for “piss poor planning” starts off similarly disengaged but luckily ratchets up over an extended run time so that by the end guitars are urgent and escalating in a cry-for-help sort of manner, and Legrande’s vocals rise and fall with a similar disparity ontop: the accumulated effect is quite enchanting.
The final track ‘Days of Candy’ is a gorgeous closer – with light synth chords in the rear of a gently pressed piano underscoring contributions from eight singers of the Pearl River Community College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The twenty four part melody is a show stopper, gently escalating and then being knocked off kilter like jenga blocks tumbling. The song’s lyrics seem to exist in just such a hinterland between stability and collapse – “I know it comes too soon/?I know it stays for nobody?/I want to know you there?/The universe is riding off with you.” Again – we don’t know who ‘you’, what ‘it’ or where ‘there’ is – but that openness afforded by Legrande helps us capture our own starry eyed optimism, turned sonic by the soaring chords and synths that shoot through the haze of Beach House’s compositions across Depression Cherry, whilst also embracing the cautious uncertainty that liners in the fog.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
Liam is currently listening to ‘Don’t Break My Love’ by Nicolas Jaar
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.