Unlike most bands, Beach House, emerged 10-odd years ago fully formed: Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally’s diaphanous dream-pop was immediately distinctive, freeing them to finesse it on subsequent albums without ever having to worry they’d be mistaken for anybody else. In this regard, “Sparks,” the lead single from Depression Cherry, is all the more surprising. With its blotches of melodic feedback and ghostly, muted vocals, the song sounds like nothing the band has ever done before. It’s shoegaze revivalism, albeit expertly executed, and could be passed off as a lost Yo La Tengo B-side.
On a Yo La Tengo album, though, shoegaze would be one of many genre excursions. “Sparks” sticks out like a sore thumb here because the remainder of the album is signature Beach House: cascading clouds of cheap drum loops, arpeggiated organs, and melancholic melodies. Legrand’s husky contralto anchors a sense of nostalgia that hangs over the music; her voice has always suggested a childhood raised on Carly Simon, and Depression Cherry secures her legacy in the same lineage, as one of pop’s most magnetic vocalists. Opener “Levitation” doesn’t hesitate to showcase her abilities. Even with the speakers in another room, she sounds inches away; under her command, a generic line like “You blow my mind” becomes tactile and seductive.
Depression Cherry is at its best with Legrand at the fore. On the stark, monastic closing track, “Days of Candy,” she’s joined by a 24-part choir in an a cappella eulogy for loved ones of her youth, whose mystique makes them a fixture of her memory. Even before the arrival of Scally’s chiming guitar in the grand finale, “Days of Candy” brings to fruition the widescreen splendor hinted at even by Beach House’s more modest compositions.
But between an arresting start and a lavish finish, the album loses steam. Billed as a back-to-the-basics approach, Depression Cherry is often languid and shapeless, its songwriting lacking the passionate force of 2012’s breathtaking Bloom. The tuneful, uptempo “Wildflower” recovers some momentum by the final third, and also features Legrand’s best stanza: “What’s left you make something of it/The sky and what’s left above it/The way you want nothing of it.” Her characteristically apostrophic lyrics describe choosing an inner world over the outer world, with the implied danger of circling endlessly inside one’s own head, chasing a mirage of infinite possibilities. Depression Cherry’s flabby midsection finds Beach House similarly situated: treading repeatedly over the same ground, yielding diminishing returns.