Ya know, prior to this evening I hadn’t given this matter an exorbitant amount of thought, but there’s probably a reason why all those Pitchfork critics of the 2000’s decade kept going on and on about “focus” being of paramount importance in a band’s effort to making a rock album. Along those lines, I’m seriously wondering as to whether Brooklyn’s chic, polymorphous Beach Fossils have gotten along to imbibing any of said critics’ works.
Now, just to get this out there: Beach Fossils are GOOD. And frankly, they always have been: 2013’s Clash the Truth is a raucous smorgasbord of riffy surf rock and noise-pop to ALMOST rival Calgary’s now-defunct quartet Women, or something along those lines. Furthermore, it wasn’t at all a mimesis: it was a totally original work, whereas Somersault, though musically sound, gravitational and compelling, often, plays simultaneously as undoubtably a sort of pastiche, which isn’t so much bad for artistic reasons as for moral reasons.
Ok, I’m going to move from general to specific here, hopefully: I’m going to start by assessing the influences at work here and they’re Real Estate and the Beatles, to an entirely oppressive, of not necessarily tawdry, extent. On “Sugar” I hear a dash of Menomena, but by that point we’re halfway through the album and the game plan has been cemented. “Closer Everywhere” comes in following that as the expansive and dreamy but purposeful m.o. of Beach Fossils’ New Jersey brethren. In fact, Somersault is the best Real Estate album of 2017, there’s no doubt, unless of course maybe Teenage Fanclub comes back around on us and actually unleashes something. “Saint Ivy” represents George Martin to a scary extent, even featuring in fact a recorder solo.
Regarding this album’s positioning within the band’s overall catalogue, the move from raucous to mellow, while largely appealing to the ear drums, is a bit troubling from the stand point of those erstwhile styles they were propagating — notably riffy spuzz-bucket pub fare (Christ, Somersault could soundtrack a freakin’ wedding).
Then when we get to thinking about the fact that Beach Fossils are a Brooklyn band, these things can’t help but ooze into the discussion and it’s only natural to start considering what this album does for the overall culture. That is to say, despite the fact that it’s more or less exactly like Atlas (the similarity is way more pronounced, at least to me, than the Velvet Underground/Strokes comparisons pointed to), Beach Fossils are still lyric-heavy, not giving us any instrumentals like “April’s Song,” and the diction on this album is direct and simple, as if indisputably embedded in a sort of raw Brooklyn life vulnerable to failure, or even perhaps too much success, as the line “Everybody’s so boring / Makes me wanna lose my mind” in “Down the Line” might indicate. The main chorus of “Down the Line” goes “So call me up tonight / If you need some way to get out of the light / These days I feel like I do nothin’ right / So come with me and we’ll go down the line”, a little anthemic call-to-slackerdom very much microcosmic of the band’s overall seeming ability to immediately unleash a painfully or dangerously honest survey of Brooklyn in 2017, or of humanity therein. The lyrics all over Somersault, while cloaked in obfuscatory effects and personal nonchalance, still leave you on the edge of your seat.
Now, Somersault is a DELICATE album because it handles gentle post-twee pop very much in the vein of Tame Impala or Best Coast, but it’s also delicate for the care taken in putting it together, as well as its astounding ability to narrowly avoid certain hazards. One of these hazards it sparsely shirks is, excuse my reductiveness, being “pu**y”: opener “This Year” comes in sounding frankly very mopey, whiny and simple, but then spreads its wings out into some phrasing unorthodoxy and modification of scale (getting into jazz realms big time) for the songs bridges. The instrumentation itself, as well, has a way of doing JUST ENOUGH to buoy this music out of failure territory (which as I alluded to would otherwise be the failure of excessively resembling certain ones to have come before): out of nowhere on rockers like “Closer Everywhere” we’ll get a wah-wah guitar solo which somehow seems non-preluded, and also theremin provides “Social Jetlag” with some key, nourishing texture, hence bulwarking the project and waylaying the risk of total mimicry.
“That’s All for Now,” which appropriately enough is the closeur, finally represents a measurable divergence from Real Estate, plotting out a chord progression which is a little simpler and more psychedelic and, for that reason, slightly ballsier (an element which we sorely needed by this point on this album, thereby demarcating an additional narrow avoidance of failure). The song and album end with a band of pedal steel, preluded by the instrument’s initial incorporation into the music itself, and Christ, this thing ended before I could even finish talking about it. It’s a successful day at the office, in other words. I’d love to see these guys in concert.