Beach House – Depression Cherry
I did not like Beach House prior to Bloom, their critically acclaimed 2012 album. Many people did, but I did not count myself among them. In an era where chillwave was becoming an actual thing, Beach House circa Devotion or Teen Dream seemed too chill for me, a chillness that threatened to lapse into coma at any point. It was dream pop deep into the dream, and at the time I was looking for something more visceral, more raw, and more alive. Bloom, however, caught my ear instantly. Maybe it was being in a state of constant exhaustion by 2012, or maybe it was the fact that the duo sharpened their hooks so that they were too brilliant to be ignored. Either way, it was my gateway into the world of the Baltimore band, and each previous album revealed it’s slow-burn charms to me afterwards.
Depression Cherry does not have the way with hooks that Bloom did. That is not to say that it is not possessed of it’s own way with catching the listener’s ear, at all. “Sparks”, “Space Song”, and “PPP” all have backbones that will linger in your consciousness long after you’ve given up on sleep for the night. “Wildflower” has the gentle field of relaxation at it’s heart that characterized the best parts of Teen Dream. It’s just that, when it comes down to the final reckoning, if Bloom had not existed and the band had gone from Teen Dream to Depression Cherry I would still likely not be a fan of the band. It has much more in common with their previous efforts than with the radio-ready work of “Myth” or “Other People”. Now, post-Bloom, I can appreciate the subtle textures they weave into the songs: the insistent woodpecker-like percussion on “Bluebird”; the oddly distorted guitar hook on “Sparks”; the pulsing synth punctuation that carries out the album on “Days Of Candy”; the chord progression that characterizes “Levitation”, where it sounds at first like they’ve struck a “wrong” chord and then you realize that it’s actually the only chord that makes sense. Bloom was all about shoving these aspects in your face; Depression Cherry brings them back into the fold, where you can discover them, or not, at your leisure.
Depression Cherry is a solidly Beach House album, and it makes for a perfect demarcation of where Beach House stands: not experimental enough to be Broadcast, too upbeat to be Low, occupying a middle ground that is squarely their own.
Young Ejecta – The Planet
Sometime around 2009 the synthesizer became arguably the most important instrument in independent music. Sure, synths have been big in hip hop and electronic music since time out of mind, but the rock and roll underground continued its guitar obsession long after most other genres had melded it back into an overall symphony of sounds. Then chillwave came along, bringing with it any number of artists who felt more comfortable with samplers and synths than they did with the traditional guitar/bass/drum setup. Washed Out, Neon Indian, CHVCHES, Chairlift, et al. brought the experimental ideas of synth-rock out of the 1980s and into the modern age, having washed off most of the cheese first.
Young Ejecta is actually the project of one of the members of Neon Indian – Leanne Macomber – and Joel Ford, who used to spend time in a duo with Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin. So, suffice to say that it arrives with an impressive pedigree. Sadly, said pedigree doesn’t really translate out to impressive music. The Planet, a “mini-album” that stretches out to nearly half an hour, doesn’t present anything new, vital, or exciting. It’s quite honestly as close to generic Teens (what the fuck are we calling this decade, anyway?) synth rock as you can get. It’s all very *nice*, and that’s its major stumbling block. It’s pretty, the production is clean and gets you to nod your head in the appropriate places, it’s perfectly acceptable background music for doing whatever you do during the day, and that’s it. Nothing more. It’s boring. Neon Indian had some experimental quirks, but The Planet plays it safe. Chairlift and CHVCHES bust out maximalist melodic hooks, but there’s nothing of the sort on *The Planet*; in fact, there’s very little that’s memorable here at all, from a melodic standpoint. It’s the synth-rock equivalent of a Theory of a Deadman album: staid, by-the-numbers post-chillwave that doesn’t do much beyond try to catch the ear of people who’ve heard it all before and don’t want anything else.
We’ve been living through an Eighties-indebted synth pop revival for, what, nearly five years now? There’s a lot of music from that wild, coked-up, experimental decade to mine for inspiration, but for some bands the inspiration is beginning to stretch a bit thin. Case in point, Young Galaxy: here we have a band with a great vocalist and a good sense of that gently exploratory, somewhat numb vibe, but they ultimately can’t think of anything new to do with it. Ultramarine goes over the same pop-structure safety that countless other bands have already done, with nothing new to add into the mix. So why bother? It’s nice enough if you’re in a synth pop mood and want to make your playlist as big as possible, or if you’re putting together a hip chillwave night, but otherwise there’s very little to recommend itself here. Ultimately ho-hum stuff.