10 Years Later: Beach Fossils

In the shrinking landscape of lo-fi indie rock, beach pop has moved to the sidelines. Instead, lo-fi hip hop and the “lo-fi-ification” of every song ever — just YouTube your song of choice + “lo-fi,” and you get a barrage of remixes from aspirational producers just wanting to make some beats — has become the norm. Only ten years ago, as hip-hop was yet to eclipse rock as the peak genre, the use of production software like GarageBand and the proliferation of cheap recording equipment pushed musicians to make more music in their bedrooms. 2009–2010 was not the beginning of lo-fi indie rock, but websites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud gave these amateur musicians a platform to show off their music, and inspire a new wave of bands and artists.

One of the up-and-coming bands was Beach Fossils, a Brooklyn-based group at the forefront of the lo-fi indie scene. Led by lead songwriter Dustin Payseur, their self-titled debut Beach Fossils encapsulated the sound of slacker guitar music of the 2010s. Despite the veneer of amateur musicianship they employed, they had the sensibility to make good pop music. Growing up around musicians and learning how to record at a young age, Payseur was already capable of making complete songs, and upon forming Beach Fossils in 2009, was signed to Captured Tracks a year later.

Beach Fossils weren’t the only band that created a soundtrack for the summer months. Their peers Wild Nothing, Wavves, Surfer Blood, Best Coast, The Drums, Real Estate, etc. had that sun-soaked sensibility, with each band laying down their interpretation of that sound. Instead of focusing on booming power chords, lush arpeggios, or heartbroken lyricism, Beach Fossil displayed earworm riffs, catchy bass lines, and singing about the aimlessness of our generation. Meanwhile, the drumming only required a snare drum and a floor tom played by Zachary Cole Smith, who would form DIIV, an offshoot of the Beach Fossils sound, but went on to develop his style.

Despite their barebones approach, just like the twee scene Payseur was influenced by, Beach Fossils felt like one of the more influential bands that carved out a lane for musicians that didn’t know how to play their instruments. Just look to the over-saturated beach pop Spotify playlists, and you get the sense of how the Beach Fossils sound made its way into the canon. It’s their knack for melodic awareness that’s most apparent — the sheer simplicity of their songs that don’t take away from the mood it’s supposed to provide. Guitar and bass riffs weave around each other, coalescing into melodies that hit different aural pleasure centers.

“Sometimes” is already an album opener classic, signaling the time of the day to lay on the grass under the sun. It’s a straightforward melody — enough for me to learn it on guitar in a day. But as the song transpires, it has the mesmerizing effect of trying to watch a mirage materialize. Meanwhile, “Lazy Day” opens with just two very textural notes, resembling heat emitting off someone’s skin. As the rest of the instruments enter, the sonic indica starts to hit — lying down never felt so numbingly comfortable.

The nostalgia of this record hits pretty hard ten years later — I was 17 when this record came out. Listening to “Youth” now makes me appreciate the lyrics “I don’t know just what to feel, but I feel it all tonight” even more — there was always that rush of spontaneity heading out at night with no idea of what’s going to happen. It’s the riff-to-vocal trade-off that hits home on the song, which then finishes off with a humble but gratifying guitar solo that would make Calvin Johnson proud. On “Vacation,” rushing bass stutters in the entirety of the song as Payseur describes a familiar scene played out in times of locomotive contemplation: “I gaze out my window / Scenery comes and goes / I let the time pass by / Soon I’ll be by your side.

Despite the languid nature of the album, the music doesn’t play without sentiment. “The Horse” evokes young love as Payseur sings, “I couldn’t talk to you / But I loved to walk with you.” “Wide Awake” gets into ennui: “I lost all of my days / They’re fading all into the same,” while the rockabilly-tinged “Golden Age” carries a swing that imagines an old couple dancing on the beach.

It’s the casual nature of Payseur’s vocals that feel like everything’s going to be okay despite the listlessness of the lyrics. As the waves calmly crash upon the shore to open up on “Gathering,” it’s easy to forget all the stresses of daily life, especially at a time like now. I could take a nap to this record outside on a summer’s day. Payseur’s last fading drawl creates a feeling of ease, wrapping up the album the way it started.

On an Instagram post in May, Payseur wrote about his thoughts on the ten years that’s passed since the record’s release. His struggles about moving to New York and the constant hunger was something he had to deal with, but his desire to make music ultimately trumped those hurdles and gave way to birthing this beautiful record.

Three full-length albums later, Beach Fossils could probably get lost in indie rock’s oversaturated landscape if they were to debut today. Still, the fanbase that they’ve built up over the years makes them as accessible as any artist. Many bands making lo-fi guitar music now sound just like this first record that set precedence. Their two next full-lengths Clash the Truth and Sommersault played off as a friendly development, increasing the fidelity, adding a full drum kit, and even adding some strings to the mix. But its the music of Beach Fossils that will always be remembered as the sound of an emerging scene ready to take over the world of indie rock, the type of sound that may not ever come back to the genre’s forefront.

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