Album Review: Beach Fossils – The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads

[Bayonet; 2021]

When artists rework their earlier tracks, the result is often an improved quality of recording or a slight revision of the music itself – or both. It’s less common for an artist to take songs from their back catalogue approached them from an entirely new perspective, but Beach Fossils have done just that on The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads – a compilation of jazzy, piano-led renditions of some of the band’s most famous songs.

The album opens with the reworked version of their 2017 track “This Year”, which has in it the lyrics: “I’ll meet you on the other side of life”. This version is so different from the original that you’d be unlikely to recognise it until Dustin Payseur’s voice comes in.

This album would go down pleasantly as a quiet evening listen. The tracks that are energetic in their original versions are now slowed down and sound a lot more mellow, infused with the sounds of sax, piano, upright bass, and splashy drumming.

The style of dreampop is most often characterized with ethereal guitar tones, mellow synths and, most importantly, drowned out vocals. Beach Fossils used to adhere to most of these qualities on their previous works, and the barely discernible lyrics were absolutely part of their style. On The Other Side of Life the vocals are a lot clearer. For fans of the band this creates a very interesting effect: the melodies, switched-up chords and mellow textures make the once familiar music both recognizable and uncanny. What is more impressive is that these versions sound a lot more sensitive than their counterparts.

Now, adding the lyrics into the mix, the words now sound much more melancholic. On the tracks that were slow and melancholic to begin with, Beach Fossils manage to elicit fresh emotions. Perhaps it’s because, although the isolated instrumentals are not groundbreaking, the addition of familiar lyrics feels like a return to something that one used to know, but it changed over time. A song like “Adversity”, which Payseur wrote a decade or more ago, now has that wistfulness of age added to it. While it feels good to grasp to something old and familiar, one needs to keep moving forward.

The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads is a very worthy retread for the band. It’s likely to make long-term fans sentimental, while newcomers get a surprising and perhaps more accessible entrance into the band’s discography.