Depression is estimated to affect between twenty and twenty five percent of people in the United Kingdom. It is the biggest killer of young men, and is estimated as being behind only heart disease as the biggest killer in the Western world. Add to that the fact it is a rapidly growing problem, the World Health Organisation estimate that within twenty years depression will affect more people than any other health problem, and the figures all point to something incredibly serious. So why is it that we still seem so desperately poor at dealing with it, or even talking about it?
It’s of particular interest in the creative world of music: a 2010 survey suggested that people working in the arts were the fifth most likely profession to suffer from depression. Indeed, along with stand up comedians, there is almost an acceptance that depression is the lot of the clichéd, troubled genius. The untimely deaths of Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Ian Curtis and many more are treated as both deeply sad, and almost inevitable. However that is simply not true, plenty can be done to help people with depression to cope with the illness, and to prevent depression reaching its most tragic outcome.
Depression is so closely linked with creative output, that it becomes questionable whether it’s part of what drives people to be creative. The impulse to constantly strive for acceptance and a sense of self worth could arguably be necessary to achieve the levels of drive which allow an artist to become truly great. Take John Grant, a man who has battled depression for large periods of his life, but has in his search for internal happiness been driven to learn multiple languages, become a ludicrously talented pianist and make some of the most wonderful and unique records around.
Whether depression is intrinsically linked to creativity or not, it is a constant battle, one that far too many people, hugely talented or otherwise, loose every day. We should not idolise the condition, even if we idolise some of those who suffer from it.
For an excellent source of information and support for those suffering from depression head over to the website of the Campaign Against Living Miserable, which can be found HERE.
BEACH HOUSE – DEPRESSION CHERRY
We are all marked by our successes as much as our failures. Success is what drives us, we can claim to be unaffected by the way the world reacts to us, but we cannot escape it. Discussing their new record, Depression Cherry, Beach House have expressed that same emotion. That all the fame and acclaim the success of their last two records, 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom, brought them had in many ways affected the entire dynamic and sound of Beach House. On Depression Cherry they talk of returning to simplicity, of building their music around melody and minimal instrumentation. In many ways this is a band looking at where their music was headed and deciding that it was a path they didn’t want to take.
Baltimore duo, Beach House emerged into the world back in 2006 with their self-titled debut album. A lo-fi interpretation of the dream pop sound, it was awash with retro-organ sounds, programmed drum machines and Alex Scally’s superb slide-guitar playing. It also introduced perhaps their Ace card, the stunning voice of Victoria Legrand; the vocal definition of languid, described beautifully in a recent Uncut article, Victoria “doesn’t seem to sing the songs so much as exhale them”. It is a voice that draws inevitable comparisons to the likes of Nico, but in reality is more dextrous, more classically melodic. Whilst Nico enunciated her words clearly with her slight German inflexion, Victoria allows her melodies to just flow from her chest, a natural foil to the organs that drone around her.
On their last two records, signing to a larger label, playing to bigger audiences and with more of the pressure that comes with that, Beach House have naturally expanded, a major factor being the addition of live drums. They talk of Bloom and Teen Dream driving them to, “a louder, more aggressive place; a place farther from our natural tendencies”. Those albums are in no way aggressive, but there was a sense of naturally tending towards the more epic, less intimate side of their music. They talk of straining to be heard over drums, of naturally playing louder and layering the album with a dense pallet of sound; it’s clear listening to Depression Cherry that what they were craving was room to breathe. Depression Cherry is not the band returning to those early recordings, it is no way lo-fi or simplistic, but it is a band exploring a different facet of the sound. Beach House here are taking one aspect of that sound and fully realising its tremendous potential.
The albums first single Sparks is probably the best example of what they’ve set out to achieve. It’s the intense, mature song-writing of their latter recordings, but with the layers stripped back, it sounds as anxious, and complex as anything they’ve done but is subtly minimal. Alex’s guitar a scuzzy, gritty My Bloody Valentine buzz-saw, the organ sound full, at times almost jarringly discordant, it’s little more than four elements, but it sounds so rich and full. “It’s a gift taken from the lips you live again”, Victoria sings as Alex’s guitar plays a repeated motif, his guitar thick, a buzz of sound that gradually swallows the vocal as the whole things fades, not to nothing but to beautiful, jarring noise. It’s absolutely mesmerising.
PPP is built around the flimsiest most skeletal of drums tracks, it’s little more than a metronomic tick, yet it only serves to emphasise other elements of the music. The arpeggiated waltz of the guitar, the gentle harmonious buzz of the distant organs, the half-spoken vocal, that gradually builds to a gentle melodic sigh. As ever with Beach House, the lyrical content is left open to the listeners imagination, but it seems to be an album about the fleeting nature of existence, and passion, on PPP Victoria sings of a moment, “that happened so fast, the timing was perfect, water on glass…” whilst on Bluebird she promises to, “not ever try to capture you.”
The album’s main themes are probably never more clearly discussed than on the superb opening track Levitation. The track gently swells from a single, seemingly never ending droning organ note, via burbling swirls of guitar. It’s a song that seems to be constantly on the edge of something, the whole thing anxiously held in a state of suspension. Victoria sings of how, “there is no right time” and how, “the branches of the trees, they will hang lower now, you will grow too quick, then you will get over it”. The whole track is laced with a sense of both sadness and acceptance, of the feeling of loss that be garnered even from a situation that never even really occurred in the first place.
Closing track, Days Of Candy, with its layered vocals, and churchy organs is like a beautiful hybrid of The Cocteau Twins and tight vocal harmonies in the mould of The Byrds. Even here at their most expansive it’s routed in simple melodies and very human emotion. Like the album that it closes, the track is a fully realised and beautiful sounding piece, but crucially it doesn’t just seem like a wash of sound. It’s as full and rich as any of their previous work, but the melodies are never overwhelming. In allowing their music to breathe, Beach House have successfully honed in on their best qualities, and with one step backwards, taken a giant leap forward.
Depression Cherry is out now on Bella Union (UK) Sub-Pop (Worldwide). Beach House’s UK tour starts in October.