Despite its easygoing nature, Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut, recorded solo by singer-guitarist Dustin Payseur, was full of tightly constructed songs that were part of a carefully designed whole. The cyclical follow-up EP, What A Pleasure, felt even more uniform, its songs melting into one another seamlessly. It’s a bit of a surprise, then, that Clash The Truth, the first Beach Fossils’ release to be recorded outside of a bedroom, plays like an attempt at capturing all the awkward glory of entering a studio for the first time and trying to keep up with the momentum of your own ideas.
Payseur and his newly recruited crew of Beach Fossils almost sound like they’re tripping over themselves while chasing the more anxious songs to their conclusions. Somehow making their way into Clash The Truth are regal ambient loops, a catalogue of indie pop-classicist guitar textures, and a leftfield cameo from Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino.
But the album gains a sort of fissured, urgent charm from these competing elements, and even the anti-commercialist “Generational Synthetic,” a confused, uncharacteristic attempt at saying something, enriches the overall picture. Here, there’s an echo of McCarthy, a Communist Manifesto-toting band unjustly relegated to indie footnote status that also spiked their chiming three-minute songs with acidic social commentary. And like Beach Fossils, McCarthy seemed incapable of stumbling into anything less than pop bliss, even when playing a song called “Kill Kill Kill Kill.”
But while Clash The Truth certainly does evoke some very particular scenes and eras (especially the point in the early-‘80s when some branches of post- punk began evolving into something dreamier and less angular), this is more well studied revisionist history than nostalgia trip. You could align this album with the same list of influences that can be attached to a good percentage of Captured Tracks releases, but the difference is in how they’re filtered through a recognizable sensibility that’s simultaneously jittery, laconic and resigned.
Tracks like “Careless” and “Crashed Out” have the kind of crystalline guitar lines that post-Psychocandy, pre-Loveless bands like House of Love spent entire albums searching for. But instead of coming off as shoegaze revival, they’re kind of like tasteful alternate routes that some late-‘80s Creation or Sarah Records band could have taken after having their collective minds blown by Isn’t Anything. Similarly, “Shallow,” “Birthday” and “Taking Off” are practically jangle pop ideals, but Payseur’s assured, unmistakable playing ensures that songs’ ringing guitars aren’t just photocopied from a C86-era photocopy of a Byrds demo.
Really, despite the new lineup, all the odd turns and the self-consciously disruptive sequencing (why, exactly, does the almost-punk clatter of “Caustic Cross” leads into the Slowdive-ish instrumental “Ascension”?), the driving force behind Beach Fossils is still Payseur’s racing, chiming leads. Likewise, lyrics like “I’m still in my bed/I don’t have a clue,” which could have shown up on the first Beach Fossils’ LP, still drift through the mix with a faceless appeal, finding that sweet spot between wistfulness and being too lazy to give a fuck about anything (or maybe that’s wistfulness over being too lazy to give a fuck about anything). But while it’s ultimately the songs that carry Clash The Truth, just like the kind of poorly planned road trip that’s analogous to Beach Fossils’ music, it’s the weird- ass detours that color the corners of the experience.