Spare a thought for Bethany Cosentino (guitar/vocals) and Bobb Bruno (drums) of Best Coast who will forever have their debut album dangling around their necks like a perpetually stoned albatross. Few bands really have a good follow-up plan for out-of-the-blue beloved debuts and Best Coast are no exception. After the fuzzy feel-good slacker vibes of Crazy for You they drifted into far more jangly vanilla pop conventions on their second effort The Only Place, ditching the reverb-ridden sound that had launched them to moderate if unexpected commercial success back in 2010 (with the help of a lot of ‘internet buzz’) in an attempt to put across Cosentino as more of a rounded songwriter than just a slacker singing about her cat and weed.
In my mind they sit somewhere beside Be Your Own Pet and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, not sonically, but in terms of having cracking debuts which will never be recreated. In the case of the former they just seemed to slip of the face of NME and the latter went on to push themselves into new territory. In Best Coast’s case the attempted redirection in The Only Place seemed to have dried up the attention for them from the places it had originated. Opine the capriciousness of Pitchfork I guess? Nonetheless, the 2013 EP Fade Away saw more of a return to their roots, and certainly acts as a better prelude to California Nights (Harvest Records) than The Only Place.
If you lump in the divisive perception of Cosentino (accusations of anti-feminist lyrics, designing a clothing line for Urban Outfitters, shrewdly positioning her cat as an internet personality etc.) and Best Coast seemingly have a tough sell for their latest effort. Thankfully it turns out to be a pitch which just about hits its mark. No new ground, in a general sense or specifically for the band, is broken but then again Best Coast are exceptionally good at not breaking new ground. The emphasis is on the compliment in that backhander.
Noticeable off the bat on the album’s opening track ‘Feeling Okay’ is the reintroduction of heavy fuzz and reverb to their sound. It’s not the same as the sun-drenched twang of Crazy for You but moves in a heavier more expansive direction. Tracks such as ‘Fine Without You’ and ‘Heaven Sent’ exemplify this and it could be seen as a direct move away from the band’s more 70’s Beatles and Beach Boys inspired early material towards incorporating elements of mid 90’s shoegaze and punk. This swap from garage-pop to harder conventions is the general theme throughout the album with the exception of the title track and closing track ‘Wasted Time’ which are firmly rooted in the category of ponderous dream pop. Both tracks are probably the standout moments on the album for Cosentino’s voice which, although strong throughout, is given space to breathe outside of the walls of sound found on other tracks.
Aside from her voice it’s hard to say that Cosentino is really pushing herself lyrically, or even musically. They lyrics are still predominantly focused on what I can only assume is an extremely one-sided relationship and although the album is abundant with catchy hooks and riffs, it always feels like the exceptional production work is doing most of the heavy lifting, rather than anything inherent in the songs making them standout. If you’re looking for another slacker anthem like ‘Boyfriend’ the nearest you’ll find to it here is ‘Get Outta My Head’ and it’s no coincidence that it’s the shortest track on the album clocking in at 2:12. I get the distinct impression that Best Coast’s songs buckle when they hit the 3 minute mark. Anything over that from Cosentino is the equivalent of your very high friend hassling you to let them sleep on your couch for the night. Too often the simplicity and repetitiveness of the songs on California Nights are shown up by the length of their stay.
If you’re new to Best Coast it would be hard to recommend California Nights over their debut album. It’s a perfectly serviceable album which you could happily whittle away an evening on Laguna Beach listening to, but that would probably be the one and only time you would listen to it. For the initiated, it should help them get over the disappointment of The Only Place, if only for the slight return to previous form. Immediately puts on Crazy for You
California Nights was released on 4th May 2015 through Harvest Records