Whereas the National’s Trouble Will Find Me found the band ever-so-intently reiterating their trademark dour doom, Beach Fossils’ Clash the Truth felt like a left turn, Dustin Payseur ditching the somnambulism of the band’s eponymous debut, and the pristine precision of the What a Pleasure EP, for the ragged, jagged edges of postpunk.
This sudden change in course baffled critics, and quite likely a few fans. Unlike the National, Beach Fossils are, at the moment, content to remain chameleonesque, donning and discarding identities as they see fit. The irony of their malleability is that Payseur has, it seems, filled out his project with, it seems, a core of backing musicians — an actual band — lending the group a certain amount of stability that it did not have in the past. Of those musicians, Tommy Gardner, the band’s drummer, is the standout. All throughout Clash the Truth, his drumming pushes itself to the forefront, directing the rest of the band in all kinds of divergent directions all at once. Gardner’s work gives the rest of the band its vibrancy — its unpredictability — which is another reason why they stand as the inverse of the National. With Beach Fossils, the drums don’t hold things down, they blow things up.
One of the better instances of Gardener’s frenetic ferocity is on “Crashed Out”, Clash the Truth‘s closing track. Awash in the same melancholic chiming that has defined so much of Beach Fossils’ music to date, “Crashed Out” is also exhilarating, its backbeat sprinting back and forth through high-pitched guitar squeals. “Crashed Out” is the sound a band searching for an identity that they’ve already found — an identity that is as unpredictable and it is undefinable.
With Beach Fossils, we don’t really know what is coming next. That’s a good thing.