Earlier in May, I wrote about Mac DeMarco’s new album This Old Dog, concluding that it was “his best and most mature album to date.” This is relevant because, generally speaking, This Old Dog isn’t much different from any other Mac DeMarco album. Sure, the songs are more polished and his production has shifted to put more on the personal singer-songwriter aspect of the album, but these are relatively small revolutions in what has ultimately become the trademark Mac DeMarco sound. Put simply, This Old Dog is just more of what Mac DeMarco does best, done better than before.
This is one way to do things.
Other times, a “good” artist who has historically released “good” albums reaches a critical point in their career: here, they must decide whether to remain stagnant or let loose. And sometimes, a band that chooses the latter ends up releasing their best album yet.
This is the another way to do things, and this is what Beach Fossils have done with their third LP, Somersault.
Listening to Somersault is like stepping into a time machine, setting course for any year between 1965 and 1975 (take your pick) and then flipping on the radio to kill some time getting there. The band’s previous dream-pop tendencies are largely gone, only making a noticeable return in the album’s final three-song stretch (which starts with emotional centerpiece “Down the Line,” frontman Dustin Payseur’s head-on confrontation with his depression). When Beach Fossils does lean on their past sound, it is done so sparingly and mostly to help transition listeners into the eclectic sounds of Somersault.
Nearly every song here differs from the last. Lead single and opening track “This Year” melds the band’s lo-fi roots with crisp, acoustic guitars and gorgeous strings crafted for gorgeous summer days. There is important emphasis placed upon the hooks of Somersault, more so than on any other Beach Fossils release. “Tangerine” rectifies its urgent verses with a laid-back refrain featuring guest vocals from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, reminiscent of the near-whisper of Elliott Smith; elsewhere, “May 1st” skillfully employs a slide guitar to add texture to its chorus, a instrumental choice revisited during closing track “That’s All For Now.”
Beach Fossils seem unafraid to try anything here, opening themselves up to collaboration and flirting with a number of genres. This is perhaps best showcased by “Saint Ivy,” a song rooted in piano and strings that unapologetically morphs into full-on easy listening. The song’s primary melody seems content to fade as a jazz flute solo takes center stage, followed by a clean electric guitar riff. Miraculously, nothing feels forced or out of place here; just two songs later, the band takes a backseat to rapper Cities Aviv, who provides a spoken word performance over woozy keys and a horn-laden backing track. And that’s just the first half of the album; there are other moments that feel inspired by a desire to simply play, from the brief vocal manipulation of “Sugar” to the breezy, glitching piano just asking to be sampled on “Social Jetlag.”
Somersault is, in all honesty, a near-perfect record. It is an invigorating listen from start to finish with songs that never overstay their welcome, leading to the kind of 35-minute runtime that practically flaunts its replay value. In fact, it bears a lot of resemblance to last year’s unexpected critical darling, Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake – another album that borrowed sounds from the past and reorganized them to create something new.
These songs are not revelatory, nor do they claim or need to be. Beach Fossils don’t address painful family issues as DeMarco did and they don’t seem particularly interested in tackling Donald Trump as other independent artists have chosen to. Instead, these songs float somewhere within the cracks of your day; they sound best played over a commute to work or a bonfire with friends. Sonically and lyrically, Somersault reflects a desire to be better, passionate when it counts and passive when it needs to be. Perhaps this is why it feels like a breath of fresh air, both for the band that crafted it and the genre they were born out of.