Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Album Review - Best Coast - "California Nights"

Let's get this out of the way first: Bethany Cosentino isn't exactly a lyrical genius. She's not known for her ruminations on the intricate web of relationships or the hows and whys of life. It doesn't mean that you can't relate to her, though. Best Coast, if you're not familiar, is a duo: singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Bethany Cosentino and lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. They are mostly known for their debut album, "Crazy For You", which is equal parts fun and heartbreakingly sad. They've made a lot of surf pop/dream pop type of indie music over the course of two albums and an ep. They've made music that has a sameness to it, which has been one of their biggest issues with critics, but their fan base is rabid and loyal. "California Nights" is a game changer. Why? It busts out big riffs from Bruno and branches out somewhat lyrically. On a sonic level, the landscape is very different. They swung for the fences and, for the most part, they've connected. The title track, with its reverb soaked guitars and vocals and shoegaze keyboard elements will be a shock to long time fans, but it's the best song on the album. Best Coast has made plenty of odes to The Golden State (their name basically tells you where they stand on the coast wars), but this is the only one on the album...but not really. "California nights make me feel so happy, I could die. But I try to stay alive, " shows a little conflict in Cosentino's feelings towards the state she loves so much. Then she follows a little later with "I take the way I've known, but have I really grown?" It's that little glint that she's done with the more petty and wistful, teen-like past of previous songs. She's 28 now, and while she's still writing about love, jealousy and ambivalence, she's also writing about insomnia, going off her meds and conflict. Like I said, Cosentino doesn't use big words or get too clever. She's straightforward lyrically and it's doubtful that this will change any time soon, but give the woman credit for taking a big leap forward and finding a vision for her band. Best Coast could have stayed muddled in surf pop forever, pining over the same guy over and over again for album after album, but they've gotten more ambitious musically and decided to not be afraid for sounding loud and crunching some guitars. Bruno's solos have really grown and are a nice surprise here. Think 90's alt-rock like Belly, or even "Eight Arms To Hold You"-era Veruca Salt. "Heaven Sent" could have come straight out of the 90's. They aren't revolutionizing anything here, but the gloss of Wally Gagel's production lends to a highly satisfying musical experience and Cosentino and Bruno still know how to make you feel good. It's a driving on the highway in a convertible with the top down with your arms pointed towards the sky wearing a pair of dark lensed sunglasses with a white frame kind of album. Don't think about it too much. Just listen and love it. 


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