- Captured Tracks
By Thomas Klepacz, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 20, 2013
Several years ago, the greater New York City area caught an unbridled obsession with the “beach.” Surely the city had always romanticized sandy getaways, from the glamorous-in-1950 Rockaway Beach to the constantly battling-for-chicness Hamptons. But, for some reason, 2009 encouraged everyone in the city (the young adults, specifically) to lavish the burning August beach days of their fantasized youth — the Beach Boy-soundtracked and Snoball-dieted years they were born 40 years too late to ever actually experience.
Clash the Truth
The city was culturally bombarded, from trendy minimalist surf shops in downtown Manhattan (Saturdays Surf NYC, the surf shop that no actual surfer has ever been to) to suddenly cool ice cream trucks offering the latest gluten-free alternative to salted caramel frozen yogurt (a food that isn’t healthy no matter how much organic cream is used in it). Even the area’s music was affected by this contagion: A sleepy New Jersey band named Real Estate created a beautiful, strummy, beach opus in its self-titled debut. A Florida band named Surfer Blood crafted a not-as-good coastal punk album named (unsurprisingly) Astro Coast. And a single man named Dustin Payseur, going by the name Beach Fossils, created (but did not release until 2010) another self-titled debut of chordal beach-guitar elegance. The supposed corniness of a family beach vacation was cool again, restored to its Americana glory through the wonderful combination of modern irony and lo-fi recording.
Fast forward four years, however, and the New York “surfer” scene is quite different. Like any other NYC trend, the illusion of urban beachiness soon washed away with the coming of new iPhone editions and the deterioration of the very bands that helped make the scene what it was (one of the members of Surfer Blood was later arrested for beating his girlfriend in Florida). The goody-goody strumming of vintage coastal times wasn’t so fresh and happy anymore, and the scene — along with the sounds of it — evolved into the electronic-infused mish-mash we now have today. With the exception of Beach Fossils, that is.
The band itself has grown and changed with coming and going members, but its overall beach-influenced sound has remained remarkably solid — as illustrated in its latest commercial album, Clash the Truth. The album opens with the group’s characteristic swaying guitars, the chords singing back and forth in 1980s-influenced oceanic harmony, mimicking the attitude of Payseur when he croons “All of what you said / It went right over my head” — as if the supposed death of surf rock never even happened.
The entire album seems to carry this beach-proud attitude, from “Clash the Truth” all the way to “Crashed Out.” With the exception of three tracks — “Modern Holiday,” “Brighter” and “Ascension,” each similarly graceful in its heroin ambience — the songs of the album follow a similar heavy-chord to riding-drum to skipping-guitar breakdown, often beginning subdued and harmless only to rise into severe instrument-filled climax. They shift in tempo and feel — “Generational Synthetic” is proud and exuberant in classic speedy-punk bassline, whereas “Sleep Apnea” is laconic and mesmerizing. But they all paint some larger beachy picture, from their squealing aquatic guitar sounds to the muffled singing of Payseur himself, as if the Rockaway’s sound system has been clogged with sand particles on a melting July Sunday.
None of the tracks are bad, per se, but they all begin to fade together into one dragging guitar strum by the fourth song (at least). On an individual basis, they’re actually quite incredible — a track like “Careless,” edgy and abrasive but somehow soothing in its chordality, would stand out as perhaps one of the deepest and most sonically diverse singles this year. However, it nearly gets lost in the overtly beachy fervor that is Clash the Truth. The album’s sound — what it stood for amid the fall of the once-unstoppable trend — gets slightly repetitive with strummy-guitar climax after strummy-guitar climax, sort of like how the beach gets tiring with sandcastle after sandcastle in burning sun. Ironic how that all works.
Nonetheless, Clash the Truth is a very solid album. It stands for the sound it delivers, and stays behind it throughout its near-45-minute entirety — for better or for worse. Like the fossils its name represents, the group remains a relic of the beach while nearby blood from surfers drags away in whitewashed waves. Beach Fossils doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.