On their self-titled debut, Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils played it close to the vest. Arrangements were spare, with intertwining guitar lines built on a foundation of serpentine bass, lo-fi vocals, and barely there drumming. Not revolutionary, to say the least, but a pleasant listen nonetheless. With such a stylized formula, would there need to be any changes? On first listen, the group’s new EP feels like more of the same, but some subtle shifts reveal a band that’s comfortable in its skin but itching for more.
The first surprising thing about this EP is its cohesiveness. Often, EPs serve as song dumps for bands wanting to exorcise their past, but Beach Fossils have built a solid statement of a record. Introductory instrumental “Moments” serves up some widescreen catharsis that’s unusual for such an introverted band. But that bittersweet build-up is repeated as the coda to “Adversity,” bringing the EP full circle and closing the record on a high note. As a result, What A Pleasure has a definitive path to follow, cycling through some pretty heady emotions in just under 25 minutes.
With the hazy production values, you’d be forgiven in calling it vaguely nostalgic, but the band injects some real darkness underneath. On EP centerpiece “Out In The Way,” lead singer Dustin Payseur gets an assist from Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum, their bleary voices fighting for air against synths and effected percussion. It owes a tremendous debt to the kind of ‘80s pop that made John Hughes’s films so irresistible, but the emotions are completely earned, sounding like a minimalist M83 by way of the Cure.
Payseur has a real knack for writing memorable melodies and there’s no dearth here. Both “What A Pleasure” and “Calyer” display those trademark surf guitars that are so effective in hammering an earworm home. They even revel in full-on pop-rock on the chiming “Distance,” albeit in a more reserved manner. That sense of restraint is a real plus for the band, but they’ve learned to augment their songs with other ideas, either sonic or thematic in nature. It sets Beach Fossils up for a nice career, one that will be built over the long-haul on solid songwriting and steady, welcome evolution.