Either the members of Beach Fossils locked themselves up in a room with just their instruments for months on end, or the Brooklyn-based indie group was seriously holding back on the debut album. The latter is more likely, and it shines through with an almost unbearable intensity on Beach Fossils’ second release, What a Pleasure.
Despite being only an EP, this is one of the strongest sophomore efforts I have ever seen. Every single string of notes and burst of rhythm from the guitars, bass and drums is tighter, more sonically pleasing and just plain better than nearly every second of every track off the self-titled debut.
That’s not to say this is a different sounding band; Beach Fossils, which started as the one-man band of Dustin Peyseur, sound very much like they did on their May release of last year. The only difference is that it seems Payseur, who now writes songs and records with bassist John Peña, decided to take everything—vocals, guitars, bass, drums, recording—and crank it up quite a number of notches.
While originally aiming for a stripped down, new wave feel, Peyseur managed to capture the essence of summer songs that were simple and short, with strong New Order and Real Estate influences sprinkled on top. But the Beach Fossils you hear on What a Pleasure manages to transcend the surf-pop party mix that characterized the debut album with a remarkably unique frame- work to carry them onward from here.
On the standout track of the EP, “Cayler,” the guitars swell in with a riff catchier than any lyric Payseur could hope to write, and that’s probably the point. The guitars on What a Pleasure pilot the ship the entire time, the only exception being the occasional well-deserved lull for a high-end bass riff and minimalist drumbeat to fill the empty room while the reverb-splashed vocals take the spotlight.
That might sound like a characteristic of a prog band or overly technical hardcore outfit, but with Beach Fossils it has quite the opposite effect. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard an indie band so beautifully and masterfully compose uniform, yet unique, riffs across an en- tire release with unfettered consistency. On “What a Pleasure,” layers of spotlessly clean guitar work convalesce into one giant wave that easily sweeps you up until the ending of the two and a half minute song abruptly pulls you out, with each plucked note resounding with such a distinct crispness that you’ll probably wish the track were twice its length.
But the improvements don’t stop there. On Beach Fossils’ first record, the drumbeats could have been played by a beginner using only half their limbs, while the bass sat on root notes to keep the rhythm section humble, yet pulsing.
It was clearly intentional; it effectively removed all the busy nonsense a fill- heavy drumbeat or complex bassline could do to the lo-fi vibe Beach Fossils was aiming for. But What a Pleasure shows off a bit more drum punch and bass flare with catchy, complimentary beats and earworm bass lines that intelligently build on the minimalist rhythm section of the debut while still keeping it confined in the all the right ways.
The most noticeable change in Beach Fossils’ sound, for the instrumental tightening is more subtle and subdued to be the most visible, is the vocals. On their self-titled, Payseur absolutely drenched his vocals in reverb, either to hide his lack of vocal talent or to put more emphasis on the overall package instead. Either way, it contributed to the overall relaxing vibe of the tracks and fans took to it without reservation. However, What a Pleasure has Payseur’s voice creeping right out front with less reverb and more emotion, edged back only by the swirling guitar parts. It’s quite refreshing, and is yet another reason why this EP is such a standout release, especially now that Payseur’s main writing muses seem to be characterized more by sadness and memory than beaches and summer fun. “Everything feels different now here without you,” he sings on “Out in the Way,” alongside the first, and currently, only use of keyboards thus far. So, he may have lost a love or two in the last year, but at least it’s showing in all the best places.
Unless you have a serious love affair with the first release, What a Pleasure’s eight tracks will make you forget Beach Fossils has ever released anything else. The group will be at Stony Brook University on April 7 as part of Stony Brooklyn, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the band’s two releases be- fore then. You won’t regret the decision, nor is it likely that What a Pleasure will stop cycling through your ear buds any time soon.