Somersault is a huge leap for Beach Fossils and includes some of Dustin Payseur’s most nuanced songs to date, with features from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Cities Aviv.
After it launched in 2008, it didn’t take long for Brooklyn label Captured Tracks to define its sound. Founder Mike Sniper had grown tired of the power-pop and punk albums he was reissuing on Radio Heartbeat Records, and he sold off most of his personal collection to fund Captured Tracks’ first two releases: the sophomore Dum Dum Girls EP and his own band Blank Dogs’ Seconds EP. By the end of its first full year in 2009, the label had more than 30 releases to its name, and within a few years, it had launched the careers of Wild Nothing, DIIV, Mac DeMarco, and Beach Fossils. There was a through-line within the Captured Tracks sound: fidelity was often low, the songwriting was pointedly nostalgic, and the overall aesthetic skewed atmospheric and dreamy. For several years, Captured Tracks held a moment in its hand. And then its bands had to grow up.
In 2017, the artists involved with the label’s rise are surviving on their own accord. DeMarco and DIIV have certainly fared best, with the former ascending from slacker icon to maturing troubadour, while DIIV’s leader Zachary Cole Smith hasn’t let personal demons stand in the way of creating a catalog of hypnotic guitar pop. Wild Nothing hasn’t quite recaptured the heights of debut LP Gemini, but that hasn’t slowed down the project’s offerings, either. And then there’s Beach Fossils, whose leader Dustin Payseur helped set the groundwork at Captured Tracks for his higher-profiled peers to takeoff, before remaining quiet for the last few years. On his third LP, the four-years-in-the-making Somersault, Payseur doesn’t shy from the fact that he’s reaching for something more both lyrically and musically. Somersault is an acrobatic leap for Beach Fossils.
Released on Payseur’s own Bayonet Records (which he co-founded with Secretly Label Group A&R rep Katie Garcia), the sleepy-eyed longing of the band’s breakthrough self-titled debut are a distant memory. In its stead are frequent surprises. The confident lead track and first single “This Year” recalls Real Estate’s jangle and infuses it with a driving rhythm section, and when the strings cue to punctuate its outro, Payseur’s vision sounds more ambitious than ever. The orchestration is a recurring feature on the record, accentuating the backing vocals of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell on “Tangerine” and turning the mid-tempo “Saint Ivy” into the most nuanced composition that Payseur has ever recorded. Its coda marries a weepy George Harrison-like guitar solo with string swells, as Beach Fossils traverse the chasm between its previous brand of dream pop and the retro AM radio vibes that Jonathan Rado, one of the record’s engineers, is known for producing.
“Wanna believe in America, but it’s somewhere I can’t find,” Payseur sings on “Saint Ivy,” which is as directly political as the record gets. But reality bubbles up subtly as Payseur casually mines his personal life and relationships for stories. There’s something real in how the country’s hardships are inescapable in 2017: Even when Payseur wants to focus on friendships or temporary escapism, he looks down at the concrete to see “A.C.A.B” (All Cops Are Bastards) in the song “Down the Line.” The encroaching claustrophobia of the world is reflected in the record’s more unusual moments, like a Cities Aviv-led spoken-word diversion on the introspective “Rise” or the rudderless harpsichord of “Closer Everywhere.”
Still, Payseur has written some of his best songs to date here. When Somersault reaches its unfettered climax, the five-minute-plus tension-releasing eruption of “Be Nothing,” it’s clear that the project has overcome its greatest burden. Like DeMarco and DIIV before it, Beach Fossils emerged from Captured Tracks haze and established its own identity on the other side.