Album Review: Beach Fossils – Clash The Truth

[Captured Tracks; 2013]

Beach Fossils’ core member and head honcho Dustin Payseur has done a lot of talking lately about the music of his youth. If you have a passing familiarity with Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut then you might expect Payseur to discuss half-forgotten memories of surfwax and shoegaze, but his childhood, by all his considerations was more of the safety pins and studded jackets variety. He’s made no secret for his affinity for music of clenched fists and rebellion, a direct contrast to Beach Fossils songs, which seem like they might burst apart like dandelions at the slightest breath of wind. He’s casually priming everyone for a reinvention, but don’t expect Clash The Truth, this latest LP, to kick on a row of Big Muffs.

If Clash The Truth is punk, it’s in spirit rather than in sound. Payseur’s guitar is dialed, decidedly, toward jangle rather than rumble, snagging riffs from the pages of The Chills and The Clean instead of the faceless British hardcore that he insists upon. That being said, that spirit is there. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of a Beach Fossils live set you might realize it always has been. “Twelve Roses” has legs when Payseur decides to up the tempo and send sweaty indie kids barreling into one another. That’s largely the mode that Payseur assumes on this follow up. Guitars chime faster than ever and the oddly nostalgic lilt that marked Beach Fossils’ previous work becomes firmly a thing of the past.

However, bottling the lightning of a Beach Fossils live show proves trickier than you might imagine. The title track, and album opener, makes perhaps the best effort of the bunch, kicking things off with a drum-free whirl of interlocking guitar parts, before eventually collapsing into a half chant of a string of impressionistic lyrics. It’s a proper encapsulation of the joyous smear that Beach Fossils do best, punk energy couched in decidedly un-punk sonics. “Caustic Cross” and “In Vertigo” (the latter of which features Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, who’s becoming the 2 Chainz of indie rock guest spots) similarly legitimize Payseur’s foray into quicker tempos. Previous to Clash The Truth there would be outliers in the recorded Beach Fossils repertoire, but their more emphatic punch (well as emphatic as Payseur’s often effete guitar work can be) works well within the context of this new record’s overall shift.

But for all the successes and admirable attempts at becoming a document of Beach Fossils’ most impressive aspects, Clash The Truth never really fully ascends to the potential that previous efforts suggested. The reason that songs like “Twelve Roses” worked so well in a live setting is because first and foremost they functioned as evocative documents of Payseur’s oft-wistful headspace. That’s supplanted here with tracks like “Generational Synthetic,” which relies on clumsily phrased indictments of rampant commercialism, despite existing as perhaps the most compelling example of the energy that drummer Thomas Gardner manages to inject in his first turn behind the kit on a Beach Fossils recording. That’s the trick rub that defines Clash The Truth, in imitating his punk heroes while staying true to Beach Fossils sonic palette, Payseur has divined an interesting new direction for the project, but these songs feel not so fully formed. They’re wisps and fragments that might leave you feeling nostalgic for the nostalgia that marked Payseur’s past. If only the messages contained within the songs rang as true as the guitars.