Oslo is a little industrial-chic oasis in the centre of Hackney. Nestled under the grimy arches of the Overground, it’s a typical London burger-and-beer emporium, all bare-wired lightbulbs and corrugated metal. Tonight, its first-floor club room plays host to Beach Fossils, America’s shoegazers-in-chief, who are in Europe for a jaunt around select festivals and bars. As we troop up to the venue, there are a lot of bowl cuts, Docs and questionable jerseys in evidence. Judging by the wardrobe, we’re in for a night of very jingly-jangly, very mellow indie.
First, however, there is the small matter of the support act to deal with. I’m not entirely sure how to approach this paragraph. Nervous Conditions are not mellow, nor are they jingly-jangly. Imagine The Specials and free jazz had a baby, and then that baby was physically assaulted for several years by Morrissey and The Tubes. That baby would still be confused by Nervous Conditions.
I don’t want to say they were awful – they’d probably enjoy it too much – but after half an hour of gurning, screaming, thumping and dissonant crazy-eyed saxophone warbling, I was finding it hard not to laugh. The synth died halfway through (of boredom, I suspect). It mewled like a kicked Chewbacca, and that was the highlight. Nervous Conditions: I have one now.
Beach Fossils, by glorious contrast, turn out to be tight, melodic and playful, a big goofy ball of fun. Their songs are sunny but thoughtful, all underpinned by the most spectacularly jangly guitar. The twin Fenders sound like glittery golden syrup, cascading out of the PA and into our thankful ears.
Their music sounds familiar, but they’re far from derivative. Their particular brand of indie shoegaze, which has since become ubiquitous, was re-energised by the Fossils when they emerged onto the scene in 2009, and they’re masters of their art. Jangling is all well and good, but you have to have the songs to back it up, and Beach Fossils have high-quality tunes in spades.
That quality shows through in their performance – they have the loose but efficient feel of a band that has been playing together for years, clicking into place at the start of each number without any obvious signals and grinning as the crowd recognizes each spangly riff. It looks like a laugh. It feels like a laugh. It must be a laugh.
Their most recent album, Somersault, expanded their tonal palette to incorporate Beatles-esque piano stomps, flute solos and Vanilla Fudge guitar lines. As a result, the new songs make for a gently psychedelic listening experience, and we gamely sway to the wheeling melodies, enjoying the sweeping sound.
It’s not all starry-eyed hippyism, though. There’s plenty of ZAP and POW waiting in the wings when the Fossils periodically let rip, and when they wind up their guitars the effect is electrifying. A brace of sassy trumpet solos make for a particular highlight, as the quiet keyboard player at stage right bursts out of his box and blasts us with brass.
Special mention also goes to Dustin Payseur’s voice, which works perfectly in this musical context. Louche and a little droney but tuneful, he sounds like the perennial teenager stuck in a backwoods town, using music to alleviate his boredom. The London crowd don’t really have that problem – come on, it’s London – but we can pretend. Sometimes a bit of melancholy can be uplifting, and that’s the emotional pocket Beach Fossils fit in so snugly.
On the other hand, Payseur ends with guitar aloft and a lemon in his hand, telling us to ‘always rub peanut butter into our faces before you go to bed, kids’. It’s that injection of humour that makes Beach Fossils’ chilled-out vibe so appealing – it’s not po-faced or self-aggrandising. It’s wry and ironic – a dry kind of zany.
Top quality indie chang-chang-chang. Catch them next time around.