Monday, May 31, 2010

Beach Fossils
Beach Fossils
Captured Tracks (2010)

In pretty much every conceivable way, Beach Fossils is a Generic Indie Band. I'm not even trying to be cynical – they've laid this trap for themselves. Reading their press release, it's clear that they know what cliches they want to embody: “sun drenched pop songs” which “radiate with a wild, youthful-sincerity.” Yet the band does not exactly “radiate” anything or come across as “wild” so much as they sound bored and play their songs by rote. No vocal tics, no sloppy playing, no improv, no solos, no fun. And what a wild and crazy thrill-ride of an album it isn't!

That's not to say that the band lacks talent. Dustin Payseur, frontman and songwriter, has a knack for pretty guitar melodies and chiming harmonies and counterpoint. It shows that this is the music of one man, because the interplay between instruments is so tight, baroque as Vivaldi. Song structures follow suit – refrains and guitar hooks are repeated just as much as they need to be, and each song ends just when you expect it to. This is reflected in the guitar tone and playing, too: plain, flat, twangy and without much bending or vibrato. From one song to another, the lilting guitar hooks outline the chords in a cheerful, if bland, way, like ditties piped out from a music box. But my major grievance is that the songs and riffs keep ripping each other off (and make you wish you were listening to The Pixies' “Here Comes Your Man” instead).

You have to admit that the songs capture their intended emotions of summer sloth well (see the gazey drone of “Lazy Day” which conjures up visions of heat waves and hammocks), but carrying that vibe across eleven samey songs means the affair gets stale quickly. All the familiar Summer tropes are there – blissful relaxation, aimless wandering, basking in life's quiet pleasures. Lightning strikes on tracks like “Vacation” and “Daydream,” which have rollicking wave-like riffs that border on infectious. Actually, in every song the guitars are the highlight, as they outshine the sleepy, far-off sounding vocals that could belong to any band, and boring drums made dry and brittle by lo-fi production. If you haven't figured it out from the monotone drawl of this review, the album is a goddamned snoozer.

But occasionally, the lyrics will surprise you with their candid emotion and insight. At heart, these songs are universal (first-world) narratives about finding oneself and giving meaning to life. On “Golden Age,” Payseur spins an endearing escape story and spouts a zen-like revelation: “We're droppin' it off, and we're not comin' back / 'cause we're trying to get lost, we both know that.” On “Twelve Roses,” he gets aloof and existential: “And I don't know what I'm doin' here / And I can't say why you would be here.” It's a question I asked myself while listening to the album, too. As the songs blurred into one another, I couldn't say what I was doing there. Stop the beach, please – I wanna get off.