Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are concerned that they have strayed too far from their origins. In an official announcement on Sub Pop’s website prior to the release of Depression Cherry, the band proclaimed what was then their only LP of 2015 as a “return to simplicity. The announcement noted that the album’s songs were “structured around a melody and a few instruments, with live drums playing a far lesser role” — the live drums that elevated their previous LP, 2012’s Bloom, to louder, more “aggressive” stadium-sized soundscapes, which contrasted with the calmer and subdued sound of their earlier discography.
But while the sonic fidelity progressed gradually from their self-titled debut to Bloom (with two other albums in between), the transition between Bloom and Depression Cherry felt justifiably abrupt, and received lukewarm dissent to match; a band known for their reliability and consistency was now getting accused of retrograding and repetition.
But their return to “simplicity” wasn’t without its signposts: after “Irene,” the intense and raucous final track of Bloom ends, there is a nearly-seven minute gap of silence (ostensibly to rest your ears from the crescendo of clashing cymbals) before a hidden track — the gentle, Mazzy Star-esque “Wherever You Go” — fades in, sounding like an outtake from Beach House’s 2008 album, Devotion. It’s this bonus track that lulls the listener into the fadeout that actually ends the album.
While the band claims otherwise, the announcement of Thank Your Lucky Stars, their second LP in as many months, was very much a surprise — excepting a few insiders, few knew a new record was coming a mere month and a half after the release of Depression Cherry. The band explained that although the two albums were recorded simultaneously, the lyrics to Thank Your Lucky Stars were penned after completing all the lyrics to Depression Cherry, and thus felt “different.”
As such, the band preserved their perceived delineation and opted to release the two albums separately. But if the tracks were all more-or-less ready, why not release a double album — all eighteen songs with nine tracks on two discrete “discs” — as everyone (presumably including the band’s label Sub Pop) would expect? The answer, according to Beach House, is that “Along the way we realized that we didn’t want [Thank Your Lucky Stars] to be released in the traditional manner. Mainly, we just wanted our listeners to hear it first.”
Though initially slated to be released on Friday, October 16th; the album was suddenly available for digital download a day earlier, at approximately 6:48PM, after most media outlets and online publications had wrapped up their final posts for the day’s news cycle.
In an interview with Pitchfork back in July, Beach House briefly spoke about the 2012 controversy surrounding the British television commercial produced by the ad agency DDB for Volkswagen. After the band declined to license “Take Care,” a track from their 2010 album, Teen Dream, the agency just hired another musician to “emulate” their sound. Scally said he felt “fatigued by the concept that no art is safe from commercialism” before lamenting, “Can’t I just experience something? I don’t want it to be sold to me, I don’t want it to be branded, I don’t want to wonder, ‘Is this really this person, or did they just get the tip that they should jump on a trend?’ The thing that I crave is authenticity.”
In hindsight, Teen Dream was the impetus for this existential crisis. The band’s breakout album was almost universally lauded by critics for its cohesion of lush textures and thematic lyrics. With the resultant critical acclaim and newfound exposure (and presumably greater budget), the band doubled down and followed Teen Dream with the flashier, amply-titled Bloom; compare both the audio and visual production of Teen Dream’s “Silver Soul” with Bloom’s “Wishes” or, for that matter, the entire “Forever Still” project. But while most felt Bloom was noteworthy for its polished production, some critics argued that it was largely cosmetic and one-dimensional, and at the detriment of effective (or is it affective?) lyrics.
Though Beach House’s 2006 debut LP was sparse (inevitably reduced to sounding “demo”-like), it personified the band’s natural tendencies of an idyllic “less-is-more” approach. In that sense, Depression Cherry feels very much like its au pair, stripped to only the essential elements and sparse parameters: a drum loop, keyboards and/or guitar, and driven by lyrics. But that purported regression proved to be polarizing; some critics acknowledged their return to simplicity as less “innate” and more inane, considering how far along the band was in their discography. But overall, criticism of Depression Cherry feels rooted in an unmitigated (and perhaps unfair) reaction to dissonance, i.e., the band had scaled down too much, abandoning the soaring soundscapes swelling throughout Teen Dream, and then amplified in Bloom. Conversely, but in the same vein, Thank Your Lucky Stars’ release so soon after Depression Cherry has been interpreted as gluttonous and “too much of a good thing.” In short: some critics wanted more of the same, whereas others felt it was too much of the same — appeasing everyone’s expectation, it would seem, was (and is) not sustainable.
While the merits of Depression Cherry can be argued, Thank Your Lucky Stars feels tactful in two ways: first, Depression Cherry acts as a prelude that prevents Thank Your Lucky Stars from feeling less like a disruptive “hypnic jerk” and more like a natural, thematic progression. Second, the very existence of Thank Your Lucky Stars prompts one to revisit, if not wholly reevaluate Depression Cherry. The band has dissuaded listeners from treating them as companion albums, but considering how incorrigibly entwined their conception and production were, comparisons are unavoidable.
In an interview back in August with Here & Now, when asked to describe how Depression Cherry differs from previous releases, Legrand understandably felt daunted by the loaded question. After quipping, “That’s the entire interview. Thank you, goodbye!” she earnestly answered:
“This album, continues to change meaning for me on a daily basis, but if anything, it’s full of many things: love, pain, getting older, dealing with loss, letting go… it’s really ultimately whatever the listener will feel in response to it.”
On the one hand, it sounds like digressive word-associations of various coming-of-age milestones. On the other hand, her response sounds like meditative stasis, an inertia that ironically occurs when everything around you is endlessly kinetic and extant.
Eventually, the band’s frequent use of fades on Depression Cherry comes up; when asked whether they prefer ending a song outright or fading it out, Scally clarifies that certain songs are about endlessness and, in those cases, they consciously prolong the fade—citing it as one of his favorite “feelings” in a song.
He then elaborates on another:
Scally: “…One of my favorite types of fades, and one that we’ve tried to achieve over time, or a few times, is the fade where a new element comes in as it’s fading. So you almost wish it wasn’t fading so you could hear–‘America’ by Simon and Garfunkel is a perfect example of that. Like as it’s fading, kind of a new instrument emerges, and a new little melody, and it’s really gorgeous. And you’re like, ‘Wait, wait, where ya going?’”
Legrand: “It’s bittersweet.”
Continuing this idea, fading Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars together into a composite play-through highlights each album’s subtly differentiated tones: the somber “Elegy to the Void” fades into the alarm-clock-like metronome of “Bluebird”, and the aching, almost-whiny guitar riff throughout “Space Song” presages the sour notes that open “All Your Yeahs.”
The takeaway? While the high fidelity can superficially inflate one’s affect through the senses (e.g., volume, vibration), affect is ultimately rooted in the intangible notion of authenticity — a distinction that proved deafening long after the white noise had dissipated.