What keeps this from being a great album might also be what makes it a perfect summer soundtrack. It's infectious, it's laid back, and it doesn't make you do a whole lot of work.
At the very least, Dustin Payseur gets the Most Appropriate Band Name Award for 2010. The songs that appear on the group's recent self-titled release, which Payseur mostly recorded on his own last year, really couldn't fall under a name other than Beach Fossils. The hazy, sun-soaked songs sound like beach music past, present, and future. The echoed vocals, the tangled blurry guitars, the lean bounce of the percussion can't evoke anything but the sand and salt air, and Payseur owes as much of his sound to the Beach Boys at their brightest, as he does to Galaxie 500 at their murkiest.
It's also fitting because, well, Payseur is trying to get away quite a bit in these songs. If titles like "Vacation", "Lazy Day", and "Daydream" don't give away his need to escape, well just about every other word on the record does. "I'm getting on that bus / got to get out of town / That's all that's on my mind", he sings to start "Vacation", laying his wishes bare. Sometimes he's trying to get away from something -- namely his mind, which seems to race -- and in others, he's going towards something. Or, more accurately, someone, since "Vacation" ends with "I'm on my way to you, it's all I want to do".
The music, which often tangles two guitar riffs -- one a low-note rumble, the other a fuzzy high cluster -- can both evoke the everyday drudgery Payseur is trying to escape, as on opener "Sometimes", or glisten with the relaxed glow of a late-afternoon sun, as on "Youth" or "Daydream". And though Payseur relies on the same formula -- those guitars, a fuzzed-out reverb that turns his vocals to mud -- he manages to twist it just enough from track to track to keep us interested. Perhaps his greatest success on the record is making these songs, recorded mostly in his Brooklyn apartment, sound like they come from a fully formed band. The riffs are tight and catchy, the drumming energetic, and they sound unified and not looped over one another. Towards the end, when now-touring bass player John Pena comes in to help on "Wide Awake" and "Gathering", the album maintains its uniform feels. The two work well together by, well, not sounding any different from when Payseur is alone.
Of course, there's another side to that Beach Fossils name that makes it appropriate. Fossils are merely the hardened remnants of something that was once living, and the longer you sit with this album, the more it feels like it could use a life of its own. There is such a thing as being too laid back, after all, and Payseur's vocals take on a uniform slack as this album rolls along. At first, it's an affecting choice, where we get to hear both his ennui and the fatigued relief he finds while escaping it. But as the record goes on, his delivery holds its monotone and, as a result, loses its effectiveness. So even as the surf-rock riffs keep coming in droves, the delivery starts to sap them of their energy.
That's not to say that Beach Fossils falls off, but it does peak and then glide, resting perhaps too much on the laid-back beach-bum vibe. Of course, what keeps it from being a great album might be exactly what makes it a perfect summer soundtrack. It's infectious, it's bound to put you in a good mood, and it'll let you sit back and relax while it washes over you.