Traditionally, punk has utilized aggression to communicate messages of anxiety through apocalyptic bass and scuffed guitarlines. Borrowing from the ghosts of disillusioned punk rockers before him, Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur strays from the syrupy reverb typically dominating Beach Fossils’ breezy aesthetic, trading it in for torrential guitars and thrashing drums on his band’s restless sophomore release, Clash the Truth.
Given Payseur’s humble beginnings in a string of punk bands, the agitated heart beating through Clash the Truth comes full circle, particularly with the beautiful and skittering “Birthday”. The meticulous attention that the Brooklyn outfit pays to guitar lines looping in, through, and around each other is still present, even amplified. “Shallow” resounds sharply, and the gauzy shoegaze layers of “Careless” are tight, handsomely produced by The Men’s Ben Greenberg.
But Beach Fossils are a different band than the one that released their self-titled debut three years ago. Initially stemming from the bedroom solo project of Payseur, Beach Fossils eventually evolved to have a cast of 12 revolving drummers in its arsenal, now replacing the spontaneity with full-time drummer Tommy Gardner on Clash The Truth. (Former Beach Fossils guitarist Z Cole Smith has moved on, now fully immersed in his new project DIIV.)
Throw on some headphones, press play, and you’ll immediately find that Beach Fossils aren’t holding your hand anymore as you wade together into calm tides. Commanding the listener to “Dream, rebel, trust, youth, free, life, clash, truth” in the album’s free-association opener and title track “Clash the Truth”, Payseur instead throws you headfirst into the roaring tides.
Clash the Truth notably brings drums out of the background, an element previously untapped in any of Beach Fossils’ catalog. Coupled with the jangles and spurts, drums further tighten the band’s tones that lie somewhere in between psychedelic fuzz and twee pop. The thrusts of “Generation Synthetic”, a subtle jab at corporations trying to score with independent band efforts, see Gardner’s heady percussion handsomely complement Payseur’s hums and strums.
And then, there’s the quieter moments of the album, most strikingly the poignant, retributive plea “Sleep Apnea” and the brief orchestral interludes “Brighter” and “Modern Holiday”, which balance the more anxious moments of Clash the Truth. The lovely duet “In Vertigo”, featuring Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, spins a sleepy tale, where two lovers are suspended in a stalemate and can’t express to each other how they truly feel.
The attention of Clash the Truth is entirely focused on creating a stream-of-consciousness and brutally honest narrative that hasn’t been there before. There’s an undeniable tension tethered to the lyrics, which amble from embittered responses to what we regard as truth, to hopelessness, where Payseur croons about “beating my head on my hands” in the spectacular “Caustic Cross”.
It’s not to say that Payseur’s lyrics ramble on by any means. Rather, they’re thoughts spilling from a racing mind and surged through a delay pedal. The musings of an overthinker who spent three years toiling and perfecting his second release, drafting 75 songs before whittling it down to a cool 14 on the album’s final tracklist. The focus on lyrics, replacing the gossamer vocals coating interlocking guitar lines on previous releases, propel Clash the Truth – and Beach Fossils, for that matter — in a direction that challenges listeners as much as it inspires.
Still, gone are the sepia-toned melodies that made you feel the sand underneath your toes. The reverb is restrained and the birds have ceased to chirp. Clash the Truth is Payseur evolving, the band shifting in a direction that’s probably unlike what they previously imagined themselves moving toward. Yet maturity comes with recognizing one’s own weaknesses, harnessing them and trudging on regardless. With Clash the Truth, Beach Fossils are driving away from the blinding sunlight and toward a shadowed elsewhere. What matters is that their eyes are trained forward.
Essential Tracks: “Caustic Cross”, “In Vertigo”, and “Sleep Apnea”