When Beach Fossils formed in 2009, they brought with them a hazy, lo-fi, surf rock sound that paved the way for future bands to emulate this newly crafted genre. The music was able to have a nostalgic tone without ever having listened it and their old label, Captured Tracks, quickly recognized the significance of this. As a result, they built their brand and roster around it, having signed artists such as Mac DeMarco, DIIV, and Wild Nothing. Their DIY bedroom sound was empathetic and indistinguishable and it defined a new era of distorted music. With the success of this genre, it was easy for these artists to become pigeonholed and stuck in a one-note box, making it hard for them to develop. Mac DeMarco clearly found a way to use this to his advantage having now hit a mainstream high, but it’s Beach Fossil’s new album Somersault (released 6/2/2017 via Bayonet Records) that proves a band can reach a new level of artistry by expanding on something they’ve already molded so well.
The band has been through a plethora of members since frontman Dustin Payseur started Beach Fossils as a solo project. Now, with their first album since 2013’s lauded Clash of the Truth, they’ve been revived into a three-piece with Jack Doyle Smith on bass and Tommy Davidson on guitar. The process of creating Somersault was different; the collaboration began from the start with Smith and Davidson contributing to the songwriting process. Then came the dazzling addition of orchestral and woodwind instruments during production and the releasing of their album through Payseur’s own label Bayonet.
With their new life, came a fresh, shimmery, bright sound but their melancholic, nuanced, lyricism hadn’t left. The opening track “This Year” begins with sparkling guitar chords and a bouncy baseline that floats under Payseur’s soothing, apathetic voice. Lustrous strings join in as he sings of looking towards the future while trying not to look back. The orchestration continues into “Tangerine” as the strings angelically bring fullness to the song. Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell harmoniously provides backing vocals as effervescent guitars illuminate the track. Piano’s then sound off at the start of “Saint Ivy,” one of the strongest, and most politically charged, songs off the album. Here, their transition from fuzz driven guitars to buoyant eclectic instruments is accentuated as they break from the bounds of the very genre they helped hone and dive into an interminable musical space. A spirited flute solo enters in midway and when it leaves, a heap of strings and a guitar lead the listener toward the end with a sound all too reminiscent of The Beatles.
The tracks that most closely call back to the nostalgic lo-fi, jangly guitars that Beach Fossils are most well known for are “May 1st” and “Down the Line.” Both supply deep baselines over percolating guitars while Payseur’s voice and lyrics are comforting. In the former, he assures a friend that no matter where they’ve been, they can make it on their own. In “Down the Line,” he admits to not being an all-knowing human but can offer camaraderie:
So call me up tonight
If you need somewhere to get out of the line
These days I feel like I do nothing right
So come with me and we’ll go down the line
Payseur briefly sets aside his own feelings of loneliness and personal struggles, a theme he deals with throughout the album, to lend a hand to someone who has their own personal conflicts, even if that person doesn’t end up staying in his life.
Somersault offers a moment of smooth jazz during “Rise” which has Memphis rapper Cities Aviv delivering spoken word. These eclectic, genre-bending junctures make it seem as if the band used their hiatus to immerse themselves in the melting pot that is their hometown of Brooklyn, New York. The tempo slows down for the majority of the second half as “Sugar” dispenses penetrating guitar riffs, “Social Jetlag” focuses on glistening piano keys, and “Be Nothing” is softly subdued. There’s sorrow in Payseur’s voice on the latter track as he more vocally becomes isolated from the world around him:
So now you found the time to get away
But you don’t know what to do about yourself
I see it but I look the other way
And I’m feeling like I’m falling out again
Somersault ends with the suitably titled song “That’s All For Now,” the tone staying despondent until the upbeat tempo gives way to a better end and Payseur repeatedly sings “Keep moving on.” Guitar twangs guide the song to it’s final note, ending the album at a short 34 minutes. It’s hard to predict how long “for now” will be and when we can expect to hear another Beach Fossil’s album but Somersault has proven that their minimal, intensely felt lyrics and full-bodied instrumentation still impresses and that it’ll be worth the wait.
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