One of the greatest tricks a low-budget offering in any medium can pull off is making the budget irrelevant. Maybe the best example of this is The Blair Witch Project. Whatever you feel about that film, its intimacy made audiences forget it was recorded on handheld cameras. Likewise, the best bands of the lo-fi explosion don’t ignore the fact that they’re making bedroom recordings; they use it as a tool for creating a sense of vitality. Wavves wouldn’t sound nearly as vibrant with glossy edges.
The self-titled debut album from Beach Fossils, the moniker of Dustin Payseur, is a low-budget affair. Across its 11 tracks, Payseur weaves together an abundance of dryly rendered, interlocking guitars and cavernous, reverbed vocals that sound as if they were recorded in a closet. To Payseur’s credit, these melodies are all pretty and pleasant and would serve great as a soundtrack to early-evening summer barbecues. And the recording quality isn’t an issue here. Never does it distract from Payseur’s talent for memorable guitar riffs or countermelody. Where Beach Fossils does fall apart is in how it can’t separate its music from the method of that music’s creation.
Enjoyable as the earworm guitar licks may be, they tend to get lost in the repetitive and circuitous nature of many of these songs. The well-crafted melodies, even in tracks those as short as “Twelve Roses” and “Youth,” tend to drag by the end of their running times. Drum loops don’t so much drive the songs as they simply keep time, and they tend to contribute to the dragging feeling. Many of these tracks seem to be missing the extra care given to craft. That originally endeared me to the track “Time” in the mess of lo-fi, summer-inspired bands last year, where a dissonant shoegaze guitar contrasted Payseur’s melodic talents beautifully.
The closest Beach Fossils’ full-length gets to that is with late track “Window View,” where the musicians finally take a breather from the abundance of mid-tempo ditties to create a wonderful, lilting piece that builds gradually into a dreamy sunset ballad. The sheer surprise of the song’s deliberate and unhurried beauty makes me wonder if another change in tempo earlier in the disc might have broken up the monotony of these very similar pieces.
Taken individually, any of these songs would make a great pocket anthem for the warmest season of the year. It’s when many of these riffs bleed into each other — like on the stretch from “Vacation” to “Daydream” — that the fact that Payseur recorded this album without the help of any other musicians rears its head. Another voice may have been exactly what Payseur needed to give his natural talents for melodicism the extra push Beach Fossils is aching for. In keeping the duties all to himself, Payseur essentially reminds us of the bedroom nature of the project. It’s not so much being a lo-fi album makes this debut record sound bad, it in fact sounds perfectly relaxing and floaty. It’s simply a case of the repetition and lack of attention to detail exposing that, as pretty as Beach Fossils is, it could be better.