It was a bit surprising when Beach House's Alex Scally told Pitchfork back in 2012, "I hate it when bands change between records." After all, quite a few musical greats have dramatically changed styles and sounds from album to album, from Elvis Costello to the Beatles. Yet it was hard to begrudge Beach House for its musical conservatism—very few bands have put out such consistently strong records. And in truth, Beach House has changed. It's just that the change from their murky self-titled debut to the bright and polished "Bloom" happened gradually and was, one would guess, partially the result of an increasing studio budget.
So when 'Sparks,' the lead single for Beach House's latest album, "Depression Cherry," hit, it was quite surprising to be greeted by a blast of distorted guitar. Underpinned by a dense and dissonant organ line, the track's noisiness recalls shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine. And while it isn't too much of a leap from dream pop to shoegaze, the new sonic textures felt like a breath of fresh air. At the same time, it is telling that the distorted guitar distorted guitar doesn't stick around—neither does the lo-fi sample that starts the track. They both fade, revealing something more familiar.
While there are other new sounds on the album—the squiggly synths on 'Space Song' that vaguely recall Grandaddy, or the choral beginning to 'Days of Candy'—they also recede into the background, giving way to the band's key ingredients: shimmery clean guitar, retro drum machines, and thick clusters of organ chords. Still, the new sounds on "Depression Cherry" are important, as 2012's "Bloom" found Beach House coming close to becoming formulaic.
At times, that album had trouble producing melodies catchy enough to prevent the songs from turning into a mush of indistinguishable cymbal swells and reverb. Beautiful textures, no doubt, but ones that had been well mined on previous releases.
"Depression Cherry" shows a newfound respect for space with songs like '10:37' and 'Bluebird.' They're wonderfully stripped down, lending a very intimate feel. And the band's traditional strengths, like the achingly beautiful vocals on album opener 'Levitation,' work well with a more intimate approach, giving the songs more emotional weight.
However, it is easy to wonder what the album would sound like if they were even more adventurous. 'Sparks' is a clear highlight, in part because it shows Beach House in a refreshingly new light. But perhaps that is too much to ask for a band who openly dislikes change.