What a Pleasure EP
(Captured Tracks; 2011)
By Maura McAndrew | 15 February 2011
Despite the summery associations of their name, Beach Fossils make perfect music for a dreary late winter. The band’s new EP What a Pleasure, with its wispy melodies and ice-cold guitar riffs, only sounds truly at home under overcast skies. Singer-songwriter Dustin Payseur and co. have warmed up their sound ever so slightly since Beach Fossils (2010), layering synths and more ethereal vocals, yet the effect is pretty much the same: it’s beautifully atmospheric music, all swirling and evocative sounds, that leaves almost no lasting impression. What a Pleasure feels like a pleasant dream whose memory remains for only a minute in the morning.
The themes on What a Pleasure consist of longing, restlessness, and sort-of love, and as on last year’s debut, they’re conveyed through familiar scenarios couched in vague language. If it’s confessional songwriting you’re after, you won’t find it on a Beach Fossils record. Most of Payseur’s lyrics hover within a college-boy estimation of how feelings are felt; namely, by meeting up at someone’s apartment, staying up late, talking about stuff, and watching the sun rise. Take “Fall Right In”: “The sun lights your room / ‘Cause we talked all night / I wanna stay with you until the sun comes up.” There’s also a fair amount of cliché in tracks like “Distance” (“When I think of you / It tears my heart / And pushes me / Back to the start”), but obviously this band’s focus is not conveying some lyrical message; they’re cultivating a dream state, fueled by jangle-pop guitar, which is the glue holding those vague associations and wispy vocals together. Without it they would simply evaporate.
Though eight tracks seems a bit much, What a Pleasure is a true EP: at just over 23 minutes, it’s more like one epic composition than a collection of individual pop songs. What before was stark with only occasional surges of energy is now slightly warmer, with synths bubbling up underneath those treble-y guitars. Bright guitar and sighing vocals kick off the short instrumental “Moments,” the perfect lead-in to the hazy “What a Pleasure,” which sounds pretty much exactly like something from the band’s debut. The livelier “Fall Right In” actually manages to seem almost sunny, in a deserted-beach kind of way, all chiming riff and stacked vocal harmonies.
Things stay pretty sleepy throughout, though it seems that’s kind of the intention. Payseur nods to this in “Out in the Way,” asking, “Are you waking me up now?” This lull only breaks somewhat with “Calyer,” one of the group’s best, kind of a soft-boiled take on the Cure if Robert Smith stopped being all, y’know, emotional all the time. Throughout the record, Payseur comes across as pretty serious and aloof, and the flat effect of his vocals renders Beach Fossils tracks, despite those satisfying riffs, considerably less stimulating.
What a Pleasure is certainly an enjoyable listen, but settles too readily into being just good background music. While their debut showed a lot of promise, Beach Fossils still haven’t really set themselves apart from every other band practicing the same pleasant murmurs of personality. If this EP is an exercise in creating a certain mood, it succeeds. But even 23 minutes is too long for the mood they’re peddling.