Rising phoenix-like from the ashes of buzzy Leeds-area art-rock outfit Vib Gyor, Fossil Collective aims for and mostly accomplishes a light tone of ethereal mood-rock. The new project of that former band’s singer Dave Fendick and drummer Jonny Hooker often sparkles with acoustic luster and radio-friendly sheen, even if it also mostly unfolds in predictable ways.
Fossil Collective’s debut Tell Where I Lie is certainly no knockout, but it’s also too pleasant and skilled to be dismissed as mere fashionable radio-friendly fancy, either. It certainly commences in a manner that suggests such fancy, mind you. Strummy vocal folk-pop cuts like “Let It Go” and “Wolves” (singles with music videos, both) dominate the record’s initial stretch. “Wolves” is tricked out with hints of electronic burbles and piano colorings and carries greater interest to the discerning listener, but “Let It Go” is more of a conceivable commercial breakthrough. With its recognizable melody and unthreatening sense of scrubbed melancholy, it seems destined to score the closing scene of some mid-season episode of a network drama, if not an alternative-minded car ad campaign somewhere soon enough.
As such folk-rock albums with evident commercial tendencies often do, Tell Where I Lie grows more appealing and less compromised as it wears on. There’s some gorgeous falsetto vocal harmonizing in the manner of Crosby, Stills and Nash or contemporary Texan outfit Midlake on full display throughout (“On and On” suggests the latter act in nigh-on plagiaristic particulars). Nowhere is this element more prominent and well-employed in the midst of the impeccably minimalist mid-album highlight “Monument”. A resonant three-note electric guitar form seems to forebode something explosive, but instead settles into a strings-assisted low boil of comforting warmth rather than scalding heat. It’s a lovely achievement, probably the best that Fendick and Hooker have on offer here.
Seven-minute pastoral dreamscape “The Magpie” is also a minor wonder, floating on vocal harmony and woody notes before its stunning and patient breakdown and rebuild of organ, piano solos, and dopplering synthetic noise lifts it to the stars. Closing lo-fi ballad “How Was I to Know” embraces the elegiac mystery lurking in “the corners of the night”, and brings the record to a stronger end than it has a beginning. Even this less-arresting opening section boasts “Under My Arrest”, a sensitively-balanced composition that manages to be achingly pretty without cynically indulging the obviously saccharine.
With these later successes as well as their concurrent concessions to popular appeal, Fossil Collective fulfills what scant promise lies buried in their name and their calming musical pedigree. Their sonic brushes clear away the dirt from the bones unearthed from their chosen excavation pits, revealing the ossified details of their forebears but only as much about their own nature as can be ascertained in contrast with that of those same predecessors. Fendick and Hooker might find that their Collective could produce more rewarding material if they leave aside older artifacts and crafts shiny new objects entirely of their own hands.