Rating: 3 stars out of 4
Nearly nine years after Beach House released its self-titled debut, the best way to describe the Baltimore duo remains the same. Guitarist Alex Scally and keyboardist/singer Victoria Legrand make music that still sounds like an intense, hazy reverie. Layers of lush, reverberating tones merge, and the effect washes over a listener in a consistently gorgeous way.
Just released "Depression Cherry" finds Beach House standing firmly in its comfort zone, uninterested in any trends occurring outside their tall gates. The result is another sturdy record — the band's fifth, and first since 2012's "Bloom"* — that underlines why so many compare the duo to a carousel: The joy never comes from surprise, but rather from the familiar.
It should be noted that Scally and Legrand are great at this approach. Their brand of dream-pop, which is indebted to the massive soundscapes earlier crafted by shoegaze heroes like Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, has made them critical darlings, and an act that can sit comfortably toward the top of many music festival bills.
At some of these festivals, Beach House has reportedly taken less money to play at night rather than the daytime. Similar to their previous records, "Depression Cherry" sounds best in the dark, where it is easier to drift in your thoughts. Glittering opener "Levitation" finds Legrand longing for a connection just out of reach ("There's a place I want to take you"), while "10:37" creeps along like a ghost.
"She casts no shadow / still you know she's near," Legrand sings.
At times, Legrand — who wrote the lyrics — can be frustratingly abstract ("You wanted to find Elvis, and I didn't understand," she sings on "Beyond Love"), but it's a deliberate device. Her lyrics have always provided just enough detail to point someone in a direction, but not enough to direct how many steps to take. She plants a vague idea and asks the listener to fill in the blanks with his or her own concrete memories. It's lyrical pointillism.
There are subtle tweaks to the blueprint here. "Days of Candy" opens with harmonies supplied by an eight-piece choir. "PPP," the album's strongest song, is the closest Beach House gets to jamming out, and the energy from Scally's arpeggio guitar playing is refreshing. "Sparks," the first single, has a kinetic quality thanks to Legrand's vocals rising above the organ's drone.
Those hoping for a stylistic departure — slight or significant — will likely be disappointed with "Depression Cherry." But the expectations of listeners have never mattered to Beach House. Instead, the group operates like an ongoing exploration between two people attached by an indescribable artistic bond, and the desire to mine familiar territories in search of something undiscovered is paramount.
Where other acts might have tapped out on such a journey a while back, Beach House seems convinced there is always a new hole close by to dive down headfirst.
* A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the year Beach House released its album "Bloom." The year was 2012, not 2010.