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Beach Fossils
Clash The Truth Ryan Foley , April 5th, 2013 09:41

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In the ever-expanding indie rock universe, Dustin Payseur – the pallid, rumple-haired creative force behind Brooklyn's Beach Fossils – has blown up, grown up, 'Crashed Out', and cashed in. He's drafted bandmates, ditched bandmates, slicked-up bedsit pop, and scorch-earthed countless stages. Yet throughout four years of artistic delights and defeats, Payseur's allegiance to an aesthetic of clean lines and simple shapes has never wavered. The Beach Fossils template remains fixed: shimmering, uncomplicated guitar melodies that one could play in their sleep; detached, reedy vocals; straightforward lyrics that sound lifted from an adolescent's dog-eared journal. Or, distilled into a few words: "Keep it simple, hipster."

Second album Clash The Truth, the group's first new material in two years, offers more of the same–though wonderfully so. Like Beach Fossils' previous releases, Clash the Truth will inevitably generate comparisons to contemporaries such as Surfer Blood and Best Coast. Payseur's influences, however, feel a bit more ancient and arcane: like the Sarah Records label, which assembly-lined this sort of bubblegum guitar pop throughout the 80s and 90s, authored by nearly-forgotten outfits named Another Sunny Day, the Field Mice, the Sea Urchins, St. Christopher, and Brighter. The capering guitars, the melodic bass lines, the cheap-sounding drums – all pulled off with such dilettantish aplomb it makes your skin flush, all carried out with such unchecked enthusiasm you expect every song title to contain exclamation points.

So yes, Clash The Truth follows that aforesaid Beach Fossils' template to a tee. What separates the album from previous releases is its robust sound. Payseur now employs a full-time drummer (Thomas Gardner) and unlike the self-titled debut – recorded in Payseur's Brooklyn loft; sound insulation was provided by hanging tapestries – Clash The Truth was cut in a proper studio with producer Ben Greenberg of The Men. It's like Payseur went from doodling on Post-it notes to emblazoning missives across the sky.

The shift in production values is evident from the first notes of the opening title track's reverberating melody. On Beach Fossils' debut, the guitars chimed like dinner bells; here, they ring like the great bell in a clock tower. 'Generational Synthetic' is equally vivid, Payseur's playing oscillating between hypnotic and frenetic. In 'Careless' and 'Crashed Out', nervy, guitar jangle and punchy percussion come together in breakneck instrumental outros unlike anything Payseur has recorded previously. The songs do more than simply breathe new life into guitar pop – they snatch its breath away.

Clash The Truth sports a down-tempo side, too. Payseur lets the melody in 'Taking Off' sulk and slouch for the opening half-minute before brooding about a prized connection that's curdled. 'Sleep Apnea' is the rare Beach Fossils tune where Payseur prefers the acoustic guitar to the electric. Over clean, cheerless plucking, the frontman is more lethargic than usual – like he just woke up from anesthesia – particularly during the song's final repeated line: "I won't lie and tell you it's alright."

Payseur's lyrics are certainly his chief shortcoming. Tracks such as 'Birthday' ("It's so hazy / What you're breathing / Where you going / You're still dreaming") won't capture the songwriter any prizes. The narrators in Payseur's compositions are eternally fraught with indecision, preoccupied with flight, and borderline grouchy. However, what he lacks in proficiency, he makes up for with brazen sincerity. From 'Caustic Cross': "I don't feel sorry for the things that I have done," a confession so welcomingly honest you can't help but wince – and then grin.

It's Payseur exhibiting a bold streak, but never straying outside the artistic boundaries he established. This is the hallmark of Clash The Truth, an album where just enough business-as-usual is sacrificed for genuine growth.