Review Summary: In which Dustin Payseur and co. emerge after three long years
Right as I was about to listen to Beach Fossils’ Clash the Truth for the first time, after having been told that it was worth a listen from a friend, a realization suddenly hit me: I know this band. I have heard (of) Beach Fossils before. Clash the Truth wasn’t from this obscure thing, but from a band that I had spent minutes of my life listening to. I remembered a picture, of something that looked like it could be a white fence or vinyl siding, and suddenly I had to put Clash the Truth to the side for a second while I searched the internet, trying to unearth Beach Fossils’ debut. And then there it was: a lo-fi artifact dating all the way back to 2010, a record I was sure I heard before, but remembered absolutely nothing about.
Since that day, I’ve listened to the first Beach Fossils record once and Clash the Truth countless times. I’m not exactly sure what Beach Fossils ringleader Dustin Payseur has been doing for the past three years, or why Clash the Truth took so long to finally be released, but the maturation that Payseur’s songwriting abilities has gone through is incredibly notable. Also notable: no longer is Beach Fossils a one-man project, and no longer can they be condescendingly dismissed as “summer music”, as they were back in 2010. This is now a full-bodied band, one that isn’t as easily dismissible or pigeonhole-able.
Payseur and co. haven’t deviated much from the surf-meets-garage-rock aesthetic of Beach Fossils
, but these new batch of songs are significantly more diverse and emotionally wrought than the Fossils’ previous stuff. The title track is a cavernous and wide-open song, beginning with some spidery guitar work and a galvanic melody, eventually culminating in Payseur chanting simple truths over and over again: “free…life…clash…truth.” And so on. Instantly, the listener is brought to realize how clean and spacious everything sounds: no longer is Payseur relegating himself to the claustrophobic trappings of the four-track recorder, of lo-fi production. By placing “Clash the Truth” at the top of his new album’s tracklist, Payseur is defining this new incarnation of his band, one of considerable force and ambition.
From there, we segue into songs like “Generational Synthetic” and “Taking Off”, which are demure and melancholic tracks not unlike “Clash the Truth”, being equally spacious and catchy. Payseur’s sense of melody has improved considerably, assisted by co-songwriter Tommy Davidson: there isn’t a full song on here that isn’t at least a little hummable, that doesn’t have some possibility of getting ingrained in your brain. The acoustic stylings of “Sleep Apnea” and the Kazu Makino-assisted (of Blonde Redhead fame) “In Vertigo” add some diversity, as do a pair of minute-long drone tracks. Makino’s breathy and restrained delivery on “In Vertigo” compliments the fuzzy and reverb-drenched production, creating a strangely beautiful combination that doubles as one of the best songs on the album.
Clash the Truth is noticeably more melancholic and depressing than Beach Fossils
. Considering how adept Payseur is at writing noisey and catchy songs that drift along at a breezily mid-tempo pace, the shoe seems to fit; however, Payseur’s lyrics unfortunately don’t do his compositions justice at times. At best, his lyrics are merely serviceable; at worst, they reach cringe-worthy levels of angst and faux-depression. Also, the three instrumental tracks seem out-of-place and needless, adding some fat to an otherwise trim album. Yet it’s testament to Clash the Truth’s other positives that these occasional lapses barely affected my enjoyment of his album in the slightest: the melancholic mood is too pervasive and irresistible, the production is too great, and the melodies are too catchy for me to get all that upset with the album's few misgivings. In all, Catch the Truth is a major step forward for Beach Fossils, and it’s certainly an album that I’m not going to forget about so easily, if ever at all.