Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally like to take their time to get where they’re going. The Baltimore dream-pop duo doesn’t let their music rise much higher than 120 BPMs; their graceful dirges, ballads and waltzes are seemingly meant to accompany the comfortable pace of a lazy walk on an autumn afternoon. You wouldn’t think that this would have a particularly wide appeal, but their last two albums have since entered the ranks of Sub Pop Records’ best-selling albums of all time.
There’s a reason that their slow-moving, ethereal balladry translates better than most: Whatever the tempo, Beach House’s music is simply great pop. And on sixth album Depression Cherry, subtlety still dominates. In fact, that subtlety speaks louder than it has in years.
In contrast to the last couple of Beach House albums, Depression Cherry is a massive scaling back in approach. Like the band’s 2008 album Devotion, Depression Cherry is an impressive showcase of the kind of beauty that two musicians are capable of when stripped down to a bare-bones approach. It’s worked before, and it works again here.
Starkness was a necessity before, but Legrand and Scally use space like an instrument, wielding it nimbly and expertly in creative new ways. The stunning “10:37” is mostly composed of Legrand’s voice and a drum machine, with the faintest buzz of organ beneath her. It’s strikingly intimate, as is the warmly languid crawl of “Bluebird.” When Legrand sings, “My arms hold a feeling,” you get the sense she’d be content to just stay right where she is.
Not that Beach House don’t save a few surprises for the climactic moments in between the whispers; the triumphant “Sparks” aims for glory in heights that previously seemed unreachable, with Legrand articulating desire in succinctly poetic ways (“It’s a gift taken from the lips,” goes one incredible line). It’s a rare moment of largesse on an album of small, beautiful gestures.