The last time, or maybe the time before (it's hard to say with certainty), that I was driving the two-hour stretch of I-70 from Columbia, Mo to Kansas City I had a cheaper than cheap pair of knockoff Raybans on. "POLYVINYL," a record label home to bands I love such as American Football was imprinted in white lettering on the black sides. I had just turned off the podcast Hollywood Prospectus featuring some witty repartee about the failings of True Detective Season 2 when I switched over to Beach House’s fifth LP Depression Cherry. Given that I was gazing intently through the small "slit" in the glasses, just above the bridge of these faux-Bans, the timing could not have been better.
Such an innocuous thing was so cosmically perfect because that sort of staring, peering through minutiae with the intensity to cause blindness, is the kind of focus it would take for someone to notice the movement in Beach House's sound over those aforementioned five albums. Beach House, the band’s 2006 debut, might sound like its guitar is on loan and its rickety drum machines from a flooded Guitar Center, but I’m still reminded of the halo effect around light poles on an empty street of a mid-sized city (pop. 100,000) at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night; Bloom from 2012 also does this. It’s like this dulled warmth, perhaps being hugged by someone with snow gloves on, that’s been in Beach House’s blood since the beginning. The gloves have gotten bigger and a little more expensive perhaps, but you can still feel this warmth. A writer for Stereogum, whose name I am genuinely forgetting, compared its subtle expansion of sound to shifting plate tectonics and I think that’s as good a metaphor as will ever be developed to describe its “change” in sound.
The new "accouterments" to Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally's summer home are first single "Sparks"'s shoegaze, the Perrey-esque synth fade ups on "Space Song," an insistent ticking in "Wildflower" that takes me back to Drive, a propulsive quality in the first five seconds of "Bluebird" that brings to mind Dan Deacon. All of it is fairly new, but none of it feels that way. At no point do the extra wrinkles in the pages make the text unreadable. Shoegaze has so often been concerned with sonic textures that the peeling guitars and vocal shards of "Sparks" make sense. It’s evident that Jean-Jacques Perry's defining ambient piece "Prelude au Sommeil" has its soft hand pushing up the synth fader in "Space Song" because both efforts leave you breathless. Not in the sense that you're choking. No no. That you literally have exhaled your entire body in response to how tranquil the sound is. You have to push the air out just to make room for comprehending the moment. I think of Drive when I hear the ticking of "Wildflower" because it has similar noirish uneasiness. What you once knew to be true and could hold in your hands is slowly slipping out. Which is an awful, terrifying feeling.
If all of this makes Depression Cherry sound obtuse or fey, it isn't. For as airy and ethereal as LeGrand's voice is, she's incredibly grounded. Before she even gets to "Beyond Love"'s chorus she sings "I'm gonna tear off all the petals from the rose that's in your mouth," a detail so lived in and specific you take it for truth. A married couple in "PPP" (Piss Poor Planning) is looking into each other’s eyes and struggling to see anything worth loving anymore, "It won't last forever, or maybe it will" is the figure-8 elliptic she deflatedly croons. The avian of "Bluebird" can't seem to take flight before the penultimate song's trickling keys evaporate into the night air.
Only on closer "Days of Candy" does the album shuffle off its lyrical mortal coil. And then, it does so by including a 24-part harmony from the Pearl River Community College singers and stating "the universe is riding off with you." Its part hymn, part nursery song, part dirge and one of the most hypnotically ornate things the band has done. Drum machines crackle on a sort of delay and LeGrand's voice echoes like she's the last person on Earth trapped at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. When Beach House goes big, it goes big in a way that would be frightening if for not how lovely it sounds.
And yes love is a common topic, but the love of these characters is just as likely to wither inward as it is to expand outward. What is a warm love song one minute can become a cold elegy the next. Alex Scally's gently flitting guitar can grow loud enough to drown out the hum of an entire city. With Beach House you can see all of these mammoth changes coming from a mile away; you just have to look closely.