Beach Fossils, 'Clash the Truth'
These days, many a band is in a relationship with the same mistress: a surfer girl equal parts Bernard Sumner and the Beach Boys, shrouded in dark eye make-up, reverb levels turned up to 10. Out of the many beach-goth-surf-punk bands running around, though, a few are romancing her better than others. Beach Fossils’ Clash the Truth is the sound of her first boyfriend ringing her up after a rough patch, offering a fresh start. It’s an album delivered by a band reveling in the genre they helped create.
The band started out as a moniker for Dustin Payseur’s solo work, but other members were soon added to the lineup. John Peña played bass on the second EP but has since begun working exclusively on his own project, Heavenly Beat. Touring guitarist Zachary Cole Smith found his voice on last year’s Oshin by DIIV.
For a band with "beach" in its name, their songs provide better soundtracks for bedrooms and late-night car rides than after-surf bonfires. Heretofore, each album has been hushed enough for their listeners to treat each song like a whispered secret. Songs like “Twelve Roses” and “Daydream” made them cartographers of lazy day territories, plotting out coordinates in relationships and life spent in a sort of Lithium-induced happiness in the doldrums. Their early work was all wandering minds and resignation. They made it sound like a heavenly slumber.
Clash the Truth is what happens after Payseur and company wake with a start. Life can be so vicious that we can’t even appreciate its purities / We get so excited that we can’t feel any of our insecurities begins the album’s first and title track. Dream, rebel / Trust youth / Free life / Clash truth come the commands. Charge, train / Hate proof / Nothing real / Nothing true. These are lyrics with one foot chilling in their earlier aesthetic and another one in a riot parade.
“Ascension” is a music-only track that flies in the ethereal more than anything the group has released yet. “Caustic Cross” is a demonstrative Sonic Youth set of guitar stabs. There’s evolution in their stride, but the main difficulty in listening to this record is the constant query of whether Beach Fossils has evolved in the right direction.
It’s an problem that plagues any band with a strong debut. And given the strength of What a Pleasure, they hurdled the sophomore slump and upped the stakes even more for third record grandeur. Clash the Truth is coming in on the tails of an excellent past discography as well as other finely executed albums in the same genre. Their decision to polish and percuss their sound, ignore the hush and head for a crisper mumble is undoubtedly a step forward, but it can be a discomfiting one for listeners.
Beach Fossils made its name with grainy Polaroid nostalgia. They succeeded because of their readiness to provide the background music to memories being made and inward trips to more innocent times. So putting out an album which is firmly present and knowable in the here and now is a gutsy move. Upon first listen, it sounds like a great first track with a couple good songs after. But with repeated listens, it becomes clearer this is the album they would prefer to be remembered by. Whether or not it’s the one fans will prefer the same remains to be seen.