On Depression Cherry, Beach House’s fifth album, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally bravely include a word that despite the efforts of many, still and disappointingly remains somewhat of a taboo.
Yet when a band puts the word depression into the title of their record, it needs to reflect the seriousness of the condition and ensure that it doesn’t imply decline or stasis, but can have a happy ending. Thankfully Beach House pull-off both these things perfectly here.
Whilst depression is unquestionably part of the record's overall narrative, it's rightly linked to a number of connected themes. To illustrate this they’ve included a raft of quotations from other artists, which include musings on transition and time's arrow, loss and growth, isolation, connection and ultimately moving through darker moments into brighter ones. They do this most strikingly with a quote from Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophical tome Parerga and Paralipomena: “Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
If opening single “Sparks”, with its tremolo guitar drone and an angelic croon - not unlike Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher's singing with My Bloody Valentine - gave the impression that they were moving into a new direction, it's actually a red herring. They’ve certainly added to their musical palette, but they’re not reinventing it here; as with other Beach House records, the sounds created on the instruments remarkably mirror the mood of the lyrics, whether they’re musing on melancholy or hope.
There are other traces of Kevin Shields and co. on Depression Cherry too; opener “Levitation” mines the mellower dream-pop seam of Loveless’s “To Here Knows When”, with no drums, just a reverbed voice, strings and keys. Lyrically, it’s a paean to devotion ("You blow my mind, I’d go anywhere you want me to"). The lyrics also carry a word of warning explored throughout the record about the nature of change ("The branches of the trees, they will hang lower now, you will grow too quick, then you will get over it").
There are also echoes of John Lennon; pointedly they refer to the fact that the recording of the album included the anniversary of his death. “Space Song”, merges the mood of Lennon’s “#9 Dream” with a lilting rhythm akin to Super Furry Animals “Juxtapozed with U” and sounds similarly romantic to both ("It will take a while to make you smile, somewhere in these arms I’ll get it right"). Yet there’s similar sense loss they brought to “Zebra” from 2010s Teen Dream ("Tender is the night for a broken heart, who would dry your eyes when it falls apart?"). It’s heart-breaking, but in keeping with seeing the light, it’s a song of hope.
“PPP” channels Lennon’s vocal sound and melody from “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with the singing so dreamy it sounds somnambulant, underscored by a lovely dose of slide guitar and finishes with a wonderfully euphoric coda. It dukes it out with “Space Song” for best track here, and loses on points - but only just.
Fittingly for a record about transition, Depression Cherry ends with “Days Of Candy”, which adds a comforting end to the trip Beach House have taken us on. Starting with what sounds like a massed choir, the singing is incredibly immersive, with simple piano chords initially steering it along in rapt fashion. After three minutes the choir gives way to light drums and guitar, and with the vocals streamlined to two or three voices it literally feels transcendental.
Beach House have described the album's title as "A colour, a place, a feeling, an energy", relating to different landing points and significant moments in the journey through life’s rich pageant. It looks back at the past as an experience, not with regret, rather something to be learned from. They also state that the record is "fully ignoring the commercial context in which we exist", but with songs so lush, listenable and loveable the commercial context won’t be ignoring them back.
Depression Cherry is a beautiful record about darker times being a point in a journey, not the final destination. It shows its creators have a level of wisdom beyond their years.