Douglas Martin is Archbishop of the beach.
It takes a true gift to be highly skilled but still seem lazy, which was the big draw of Beach Fossils’ 2010 self-titled debut. Dustin Payseur studied the intricate arrangements of jazz and classical and crafted them into a leisurely rooftop party. While each guitar and bass line bobbed and weaved, Payseur sung like he’d just woken up from a nap, going so far to name songs “Lazy Day” and “Daydream.” Beach Fossils was a record with no ambition beyond pretty and dreamy summertime music, which makes it even more of a surprise that it was one of the best records of its calendar year. Funny how the lingering dread of growing up tends to light a fire under us.
Every band should strive to progress with their sophomore album, so let’s cut to the chase: Clash the Truth improves upon the Beach Fossils template in every conceivable category, (except maybe “chillness.”) The exceptions are “Sleep Apnea,” which could pass for a deep cut from Real Estate’s Days and the gorgeous “In Vertigo,” (featuring Kazu Makino, whose cameo run so far this year may yet approach 2 Chainz proportions. There’s nothing particularly laconic or easygoing here. The songs have taken a sharp, uptempo turn without sacrificing the compositional ingenuity or sense of melody. The guitars and bass still tightly coil and Payseur still sings more like Phil Elvrum than Freddie Mercury.
After the rising build (and ill-advised chanting chorus) of the title track, things automatically kick into high gear with “Generational Synthetic,” which is basically the kind of commentary you should expect from a guy still in the thick of his twenties. It’s a song about being surrounded by phonies, sellouts, and starving artists with secret trust funds. You can hear the worry in his voice as he quotes the kids on the corner puffing hand-rolled cigarettes: “We’re so brave, we’re so real / We’re so desperate, make a deal.”
Most of the other songs are more or less about the same things we all always think about: Being stuck in our own heads, being stuck without someone we’re really fond of, threatening to light someone on fire. Thankfully, the songs never become rote, thanks to the unforgettable guitar work. The three-song run of “Taking Off,” “Shallow,” and “Burn You Down” could serve as master classes in modern post-punk songwriting and guitar mastery. (Perhaps that would be a class Carlos D. wouldn’t mind teaching, provided he leaves the bolo tie at home.)
After the blissful nervousness dies out, the band close the album with their darkest work yet. “Caustic Cross” finds Payseur in a more defensive stance, crooning, “I don’t feel sorry for the things that I have done / I won’t be blamed when everything is going wrong.” Album closer “Crashed Out” is brisk, punchy, and visceral, showing a side of the band completely inconceivable to anyone who heard the self-titled album. But Beach Fossils are full of surprises, apparently. Who thought they’d do anything worthwhile after their debut? Somehow, they’ve cleared that bar and made a truly great record.