Beach House regains its intimacy on brilliant “Depression Cherry”

By Jackson Maxwell

Matt Karp/Flickr
Matt Karp/Flickr

My friend once told me that you cannot truly experience the full power of the English shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine until you play its music as loud as you can physically stand it.

And while I have never quite gotten the urge to level my ears with My Bloody Valentine, whenever I hear, “Sparks,” the stunning lead single off of Beach House’s fifth album, “Depression Cherry,” that same urge is something I cannot overcome.

Everything about the song is completely all-encompassing; Alex Scally’s jagged and heroic guitar lines, vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand’s enchanting whispers, and the beautifully murky production, which coats the whole track in a perfect haze of dreaminess and infinite possibility. The louder the listener plays it, the more of a physical experience it becomes. It numbs the listener to the realities that surround them, and opens up new realities throughout the five minutes the song takes to blaze its trail.

The only downside of “Sparks” is that it leaves the rest of “Depression Cherry,” released Aug. 28, nowhere to go but down. Opening track “Levitation,” with its sustained tension and giant chord progressions, sets its successor up masterfully, almost on a platter. Then “Sparks” completely blows “Levitation’s” carefully constructed roof off, redefining shoegaze, dream-pop or whatever sub-genre label that may get thrown onto it.

If anything, it proves that Beach House has always been the most entrancing when it has had more tangible power behind the fantasy worlds it concocts. What would have “Wild,” a highlight from the band’s 2012 album, “Bloom,” been if not for the cosmic, spellbinding guitar riffs that dotted its outer reaches? What if “Norway,” from 2010’s “Teen Dream,” didn’t have the percussive charge that made it so hypnotic?

Perhaps all would not be lost. But, without that brute, unexpected physicality, the kind the duo brings so forcefully on “Sparks,” Beach House’s music sometimes tends to waft away.

The remaining seven tracks on “Depression Cherry” try to find the perfect balance between willowy dreaminess and breathtaking moments of impact. The songs with greater gravity, like the seemingly bottom-less ballad, “10:37,” the cavernous “Bluebird” and the soaring melody of “Beyond Love” feature the most of the latter.

They rest easily in Scally and Legrand’s comfort zone; with Scally’s skyscraping guitar leads interacting beautifully with Legrand’s drone-heavy keyboards and ethereal vocals.  Even in that familiarity, there is a renewed sense of intimacy that was hard to find in “Bloom,” a record that was so good,  yet so much more distant than the duo had presented themselves before.

And though “PPP” and “Days of Candy” in particular fail to differentiate themselves from the well-established Beach House aesthetic, they blur into “Depression Cherry’s” more triumphant moments. It is a wondrous song cycle, worth listening to just to hear “Sparks,” a titanic achievement in pop songwriting that may very well be a late contender for the coveted song of the summer crown.

But, extraordinary singles aside, “Depression Cherry” stamps Beach House’s authority as the heir to My Bloody Valentine’s legacy; a band that merges the blissful with the brutal in such a way that it isn’t long before the two become indistinguishable.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected]