8 Jul 2023

The Sampler: Beach Fossils, Robin Saville, Teke Teke

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 8 July 2023

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Tony Stamp reviews Brooklyn indie-surf, British landscape-inspired ambient electronica, and a boisterous outing from Canada by way of Japan.

Bunny by Beach Fossils

Beach Fossils

Photo: Supplied

In the late 2000s, surf rock made an unexpected comeback. Bands like Wavves, Best Coast, Real Estate and The Drums put out records that drew on and updated the music of 1950s California, funnelling it through a more DIY lens. 

Many of these acts have come and gone, but Beach Fossils have made it to album four, coming thirteen years after their first. 

The DNA of acts from Dick Dale to The Beach Boys can be found in this music, but the prominent influences on Bunny tend to run more modern. 

A review in Pitchfork mentions “Flying Nun-inspired guitar tones”, and that aside, this is an album that reminds you of a lot of others: over its duration, I caught hints of Teenage Fanclub in the vocal harmonies, My Bloody Valentine when the guitar fuzz blends with soft singing, The Byrds when a 12-string guitar pops up, and in particular, R.E.M. circa the 1980s.  

In fact, the opening of tracks like ‘Tough Love’ almost sound like lost classics from that beloved Georgia quartet.

There are five previous members of Beach Fossils, including Zachary Cole Smith, who formed the pricklier outfit Diiv. Vocalist Dustin Payseur is the one person left from that first outing, and while he often shares writing credits, his style still shines through clearly.

There’s a hint of Brit Pop in tracks like ‘(Just Like the) Setting Sun’, but the name that Payseur references most frequently in interviews is one you might not expect: fifties jazz vocalist and trumpeter Chet Baker.

It makes sense though: he praises Baker for being understated, and always doing less with his voice than he was capable of. That’s easy to hear in Payseur’s performances, and it’s worth bearing in mind Baker’s nickname: ‘The Prince of Cool’. 

Aesthetic considerations aside, Bunny is full of well-written indie pop songs, the kind that Beach Fossils couldn't have produced at their inception. They’ve endured while many of their peers from the 2010s surf boom faded away, broadening their range while staying slightly withholding.

Lore by Robin Saville

Robin Saville

Photo: Facebook

Around the turn of the century, a German label called Morr Music introduced me to some of my favourite records. Work by bands like The Notwist and Múm sounded like nothing else, with an emphasis on petite taps and tinks generated by instruments like xylophone and drum machines, a mix of analogue and digital with an emphasis on naivety. 

The gentle, unobtrusive sounds of Robin Saville feel right at home.

Saville is half of the duo Isan, formed in 1996, who released most of their albums also on Morr Music. Their sound is melodically rich and mostly electronic, soft bass hums and swirling pads over delicate rhythms.

Saville’s solo work is much the same, but sparser and featuring live instruments like glockenspiel and chimes. In fact, bell sounds are so prominent across this album one track is called ‘Belfry’. 

Robin Saville describes himself as an ‘avid ambler’, and this love of walking helps define the album. Field recordings are threaded throughout, highlighting a love of birdsong, and the change of seasons in Britain.

Two tracks take their name from streets Saville recorded on, including ‘Theberton Public Road No1’, in which you can hear the chirping of birds fall in time with the song.

He described his last album ‘Build a Diorama’ as ambient, and that’s applicable here too, although ‘minimal’ might be a better descriptor. The legacy of Steve Reich can be felt in these cyclical patterns.

The influence of nature can be felt elsewhere: One track is called ‘Tapetum’, which I’ve learned is a layer of cells inside a plant’s anther, which contains pollen.

Lore is a polite, friendly album with a melancholy undercurrent. In the liner notes, Robin Saville explains that the opening track ‘Judith Avenue’ features a recording of nightingales at dusk. Specifically, males who have flown from Africa, and sing to guide the females down from their migratory flight paths weeks later. He notes that this has happened for thousands of years, but as the spot he recorded in is earmarked for development, it probably won’t happen again.

He says “The recordings therefore become part of the history of that place, the lore”.

Hagata by Teke::Teke


Photo: Supplied

There’s a certain kind of rowdy, carnivalesque music, made by groups with a high member count and an excess of energy, that I’m not often drawn to. But when I stumbled across Japanese-Canadian band Teke::Teke, I found myself impressed by their ability to fuse so many disparate influences with so much enthusiasm, and not get too annoying.

They began life as a tribute act, performing songs by Japanese guitarist Takeshi Terauchi, who was active in the 1960s. But their inspirations have become broader than that, including instruments like Shinobue (traditional Japanese Flute), and trombone.

In an interview with Canadian Beats, guitarist Serge Nakauchi Pelletier discussed the band’s influences, including post-war, Showa-era Japan, particularly during the 60s when rebellious youth were drawing inspiration from America and Britain.

He also mentions Brazilian music, experimental noise, and film soundtracks, but listening to their second album Hagata, you get the feeling there are many more besides. 

Its two highlights evoke Spaghetti Westerns to my ears, starting with ‘Doppelganger’, which features one of singer Maya Kuroki's most emotive performances.

On the following ‘Setagaya Koya’, the band flies through an even more cinematic instrumental section, evoking wide horizons with breathless enthusiasm.

The band’s name, Teke::Teke, seems to come from a Japanese urban legend involving the ghost of a girl who was bisected by a train and lurks in urban areas. I can see parallels, in the group’s fondness for surprise, and the way Kuroki sometimes sounds possessed.

Hagata can be challenging and is always pivoting down new aural avenues. If you don’t mind how boisterous it often is, the high points will be very high.