Bunny, the fourth album from the NYC-based indie-pop band Beach Fossils, is their first in six years. On the surface, though, one of its most impressive traits is it sounds as if it could have been recorded six months after their previous album, Somersault (2017). Sonically, the new one is a pure, seamless combination of that record’s pristine production and newfound maturity with the post-punk-influenced, guitar-driven sound of Beach Fossils’ earliest releases.
Frontman Dustin Payseur’s voice is laid back and unaffected as ever. But while Somersault featured strings, piano, and saxophone, the music on Bunny is all about Payseur’s and Tommy Davidson’s guitars. They jangle and sparkle away, at times sounding as brittle as tinsel strung on a holiday tree but also every bit as shiny. In short, anyone whose favorite Beach Fossils song is “Saint Ivy” or “Generational Synthetic” may be disappointed. Everyone else is in for a treat.
Some of this remarkable continuity may be down to the fact that the band’s lineup has remained consistent over the intervening years. Also, Payseur remains firmly in control, continuing to self-produce and release Bunny on his Bayonet imprint.
What’s different with Bunny is more a matter of emotion, mood, and perspective—a result, one can easily imagine, of where Payseur stands in his personal life. The album finds him at the inevitable, complex intersection between adolescence and adulthood, ennui and responsibility. On much of Bunny, Payseur sings about hanging out, slacking off, cruising around, getting high, coming down, and dealing with the fallout. On the swaying, country-tinged “Run to the Moon”, he is “Staying out all night / … taking drugs / Acting stupid, having fun.” Payseur has always written about such topics, but the sentiments sound quite a bit different coming from a 37-year-old than they did when he was in his 20s. One might think he should be moving past these pursuits, but that awkwardness lends his words poignancy.
Also poignant is Payseur’s self-awareness. In the years leading up to Bunny, he became a father. In the lead single “Don’t Fade Away”, one of several tracks sounding informed by the more guitar-focused side of New Order, he recognizes the innate contradictions of his on-tour habits: “Just finished this pack of cigarettes / And I don’t even smoke.” When he says, “She’s novocaine / All I need to ease the pain,” he might well be talking about his young daughter. The dreamy, pastoral “Feel So High” even seems to embrace good old-fashioned domestic bliss, Payseur claiming, “Everyone’s chasing after someone else’s dream / I just wanna live my life.”
This desire for something more substantial and its attendant frustration comes to an indelible point in “Dare Me”. Over trademark staccato eighth-note guitars and a typically sympathetic rhythm section, Payseur talks about dealing with a fight at a party and then implores, “Kill the cliché for a moment / And I’ll tell it like it is / I think I need more than this.” It’s a great chorus with a great hook and caps off a perfect indie-pop song. “Dare Me” is so strong it would threaten to overwhelm a lesser album. “Tough Love” is a bit of a sound-alike, but the rest of the 11 tracks on Bunny hold their own.
If Bunny offers anything in the way of a new sonic wrinkle, it is in the way tracks like “Feel So High” and “Numb” take the Beach Fossils sound, often described as “dream pop”, to the verge of full-on shoegaze territory, while the comforting “Waterfall” peels the reverb off of Payseur’s voice, revealing a new dimension to his croon.
Only the instrumental chorus of “Seconds” gets scrappy in the way of early releases. If Bunny has a fault, it is in the way it is so poised and delicately produced that it sometimes sounds like it should be behind glass. Ultimately, though, it succeeds at the none-too-easy task of providing plenty of familiar pleasures in the present while making one curious about where Payseur might take Beach Fossils in the future.