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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beach House: Depression Cherry and Destroyer: Poison Season (Release Date: 8-28-2015)

        "Tender is the night/For a broken heart" Victoria Legrand croons on Space Song, a stand-out from her band's impending LP Depression Cherry, her voice as full of ache as it is of hope. In this instance, as in innumerable others, Legrand finds a sad sort comfort and a luxurious discontent in the nocturnal hours, an paradigm that Dan Bejar wants nothing to do with. "Tender is the night," he refutes, "that sweeps you up in its folly." The lyric is taken from Sun in the Sky, a song by Bejar's band Destroyer, and derives from their upcoming record Poison Season, an album that will meet the the world on the very same date as that aforementioned, sad-sack Cherry. This linguistic/time-frame convergence would be interesting enough in and of itself, but the juxtaposition becomes that much more enticing when you consider how each line works as a thesis statement on its accompanying album. While Beach House is busy locating the warm, gooey center of devastation, Destroyer is playing maestro, and massaging your eardrums from every possible angle.

        Don’t get me wrong, not everything about Poison Season is all kittens and butterflies; within the opening few seconds of the disc, Jesus is already beside himself, with Jacob in a state of desolation. Bejar’s lyrics are often consumed with such melancholic thoughts and personas; from the protagonist of The River despising “the direction the the city’s been going in,” to Bejar himself, “raising a toast to the world of scum around us closing in,” the lyrics on hand, while mostly preoccupied with storytelling, are frequently wrought and tortured. The music they ride atop, however, never quite gives into the gloom and doom that it's been saddled with. A myriad of instruments and lush sonics come to define the album far more explicitly than Bejar’s words ever could, PS often envisioning itself as a specific sort of smooth jazz album.

        Horns are perhaps the LP’s primary tool of instrumentation, trumpet blasts powering the blustery bliss of Dream Lover, sauntering with utmost confidence while an acoustic guitar does the grunt work on single Times Square. Not to be out-shined by their orchestral mates, violins take the reins on the lovely drift of Hell, while the two intertwine on the outtro of Archer on the Beach to languid, elating effect. Everything here goes down easy, and even when a song opens with a degree of tension, such as on the aforementioned Hell, lightness and levity breakthrough before the one minute mark has even come to pass, like the sun bursting through a thicket of clouds on a downcast day. Much of this comes from the author’s diminished interest in that old familiar six-string; guitars are hardly ever allowed the spotlight here, their sound likely proving too direct for the dichotomy Bejar seeks too create between his woefully pessimistic yarns, and his billowy, pillow-soft sound world.

        But don’t feel too sorry for the most popular instrument in Western music, because Depression Cherry welcomes it with open arms. Not that any Beach House track could rightly be described as a ‘rock song,’ but lead single Sparks is their closest yet, a jagged guitar riff slicing through the all-consuming haze that’s always embodied the band’s output. Alex Scally’s fretwork proves similarly cutting on Beyond Love, and while headphones are almost required to hear his ax near the end of opener Levitation, its buzz is deep, guttural, and surprisingly agitated, defecting from the track’s overpowering, otherworldly mist. Anyone interpreting this as some sort of identity-altering shift in the two-piece’s decade-long career might want to walk that one back. Beach House doesn’t change so much as they subtly revise, and the serrated nature of Scally’s guitar play here is akin to the improved production on Teen Dream, or the return of the tinny drum machine sound on Bloom. It goes without mentioning that Legrand’s lyrics are wistful, longing, and saddled with that strange type of listlessness that somehow reads as romantic. With each new release, the band pumps the breaks, or pushes slightly harder on the gas. Either stopping or flooring it would be against their very constitution.

        As such, all of their signature loveliness is once again on display. That trusty slide guitar rears its comely head once more, swooning all over Space Song, gracefully putting the album to bed on closer Days of Candy. You’d be forgiven for mistaking the expertly plucked strings of PPP for Teen Dream closer Take Care, while the ruminating line that defines Wildflower’s chorus is more than just a little bit familiar. One wishes the band didn’t love that crappy drum machine quite so much, as most of Depression Cherry’s percussion meets the ears like one of those pre-programmed beats you can play on a lower-end keyboard with the pushing of a single button. The one instance of live drumming can be found on the aforementioned Sparks, and the pounding of a tactile instrument gives the track much of its power, only to be followed by seven straight tunes that revel in rhythm-section artifice. The same could be said of Bloom, however, so if you weren’t out then, chances are you won’t be jumping ship now.

        That sense of rewarding loyal listeners by staying true to themselves, along with a general attention and prioritization of beauty, is the truest connective tissue between these two offerings. It’s hard to imagine anyone previously averse to Bejar’s work as Destroyer suddenly being won over by Poison Season, and downright impossible in the case of Depression Cherry. The former will always be a goofy, wordy storyteller prone to melodrama and rich layers of varied instrumentation, while the latter will eternally sing of youthful longing while concocting lo-fi dreamscapes in the most mellowed-out fashion imaginable. These are artists who’ve built up steady followings over their respective careers, and now appear to have little interest in expanding their fan base beyond what they’ve already amassed. This isn’t laziness, but rather infinite refinement, and all you really need in order to know how you’d feel about these two discs is your own pre-existing thoughts on the artists who created them. Bejar, Legrand, and Scally are mountains, not oceans; the world of music might change around them, but the three of them are staying put.

Depression Cherry: B
Poison Season: B+

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