We seem to be in the midst of an indie-rock, retro-leaning fuzz-pop revolution. Since January, top-notch releases from bands like Surfer Blood, The Soft Pack, Dum Dum Girls and Male Bonding have brought us back to a lo-fi, pleasantly minimalist place. There’s something to be said for a classic-minded pop-song with a good hook. Quick, easy and indelible. Add a layer or two of guitar fuzz and you have something even more striking. Best Coast should be added to this list of new bands leaning excellently in this direction. They actually sound like an even cross between Dum Dum Girls and Surfer Blood with a slight bit of She and Him thrown in for good measure. Vocalist Bethany Cosentino has a voice somewhere between Brenda Lee and Neko Case. She and her band-mate, Bobb Bruno deliver initially sunny sixties-infused pop with a heavier guitar edge. Throughout the album’s thirteen-song cycle, the duo stays roughly in the same sonic area, but they mine it well. These are thirteen excellent, catchy songs. The lyrics are at times simplistic. (“Lazy” and “Crazy” are rhymed together on multiple occasions, but these songs have charm and are more complex than they first seem.). Most of the Motown songs from the golden era had very simple lyrics, as did many of the early Beach Boys songs. These are now classics. Simplicity, if done right can lead to universality. If done wrong, it can just seem stupid. Paired with an excellent melody, simplicity can equal gold. The members of Best Coast have hit accessible gold with this record. From the opener, “Boyfriend,” the overall tone is set. The guitars have a vaguely surfy sound. The vocal harmonies recall the girl groups of the past, but this is something new. There’s a punky tension. These two styles are not often put together, but make an appealing combination. Cosentino is an appealing, alluring front-woman, who captures and conveys her sadness as she sings, “I wish he was my boyfriend.” Again, this territory has been covered many times over the last fifty-five years or so, but if done well, it can still seem fresh. The title track is next. At 1:50, it is one of the briefest tracks on the record and with an up-tempo go-go beat backing her up, Cosentino sings about a love/hate relationship. Fans of the Concretes’ self-titled record should find this track endlessly appealing. “The End” is slightly slower with a slightly darker edge, but it has a skiffle-like boardwalk strut before it bursts into a gloriously busting chorus of “You say that we’re just friends. But I want till the end.” Indeed this is one of the boldest highlights on the album. Cosentino could have gone pop with these songs, with brighter production. It’s good that she didn’t. Her lyrics lean towards a sadder side, more suited for a rockier, more uncertain backdrop. On “Goodbye,” she sings, “I can’t get myself off the couch. / I don’t want to talk to anyone else. / Every time you leave this house, / Everything falls apart.” The guitar wall simply compliments these lyrics and backs them with bile. This is even more the case when she later says, “I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk.” If you were to put these lines into an over-produced pop song, they wouldn’t fit. The indie-rock backdrop allows her to be more quirky in her approach. “Summer Mood,” again excellently captures the overall feel of the album. This disc is in many ways a soundtrack to summer, but it’s the soundtrack to somewhat uneasy, disenfranchised, angst-driven summer. While you can listen to these songs at the beach or lying in a hammock, there’s still unsettled tension seething from under the surface. On this track, it comes to a head when Cosentino sings, “I can’t stand this,” and “ooh, I want you.” There is anger and there is longing, and both of these touches give this batch of songs a refreshing edge. “Our Deal” again deals with the frustration of an abandoning and distant lover. Cosentino sings, “I wish you would tell me just how you feel. / But you’ll never tell me. / Cuz that’s not our deal.” Again, it’s sad and unsettled and all the better for it. “I Want To,” in its tone at first plays like a garage-rock answer to the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown,” even if Cosentino spends most of her time repeating the words, “I want you so much.” There’s something in the song’s mood and structure that recalls a simpler time. Throughout the record, she harmonizes with herself in a style not dissimilar from that of the Everlys. This track is at first very sparse, giving her longing sentiments room to breathe. Then, suddenly at the very end of the song, the drums kick in with rocky abandon and she sings, “I want to go back to the first time, the first place.” It’s as if that feeling of love lost has exploded into a ball of punk energy. It captures that feeling of knowing you can’t have what you once had back. It’s a sad realization encapsulated into a mere 2:46. A touch of dissonance is firmly engrained into the guitar line of “When the Sun Don’t Shine,” as Cosentino sings, “I just want to tell you that I’ll always love you. / I just want to tell you that I’ll always miss you.” I’ve never heard a songwriter do so much with so many sentiments that seem on the surface to be so basic. The end result here is anything but. It’s somehow a fully fleshed out song. She and Bruno know exactly how to package these songs in the right way. “Bratty B” plays like an apology letter to a long gone lover, begging him to come back, saying “I promise I won’t be such a brat.” “Honey” is possibly the most unsettled track on the record. The guitars are murky, the tune is dense and there’s a feeling of desperation every time the title is uttered. This track’s tune screams of loss, but its lyrics scream of victory. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Cosentino sings, “I couldn’t tell you just how much I love you, but now that you’re mine, I’ll tell you all the time.” Never have the words, “I want to be with you every week,” been given such a morose reading. “Happy” is fittingly repetitive and peppy. It maintains bounce with its core refrain of “You make me happy.” The word “happy” is said thirty nine times (by my count) in a mere 1:45. It’s hard to tell if this is a sincere ode to happiness or simply an ode to someone trying really hard to convince herself that she’s happy. The fact that such a question can be raised makes this song all the more interesting. “Happy” stops and it goes right into the equally upbeat “Each and Every Day.” At this point it is evident that this is indeed a concept album about how love can really drive you mad. Everything about this record, down to its title backs this point up. Love can make unbalanced and it can make you question your own sanity. The things you will do for love may amaze you. They may alarm you, but love can truly change who you are and your reactions. What seems on the surface to be a collection of simple songs, in the end winds up being many pieces to a collective puzzle. If you can’t relate in some way, then you’ve probably never been in love. The album closes with the bonus track, “When I’m With You” which has the refrain of “When I’m with you I have fun.” Togetherness curbs the insanity. This plays like an epilogue, summing up the overall message of the record. Love with tension, and love with separation equals insanity, while togetherness equals paradise. This album is summer treat which should appeal to wide, varied audience. It’s a record built around a set mood. Upon repeated listens, its true complexities begin to shine through. If what you have read here sounds intriguing, this album is highly, highly recommended. The members of Best Coast have given us a thesis statement on how to survive love and its extreme, accompanying mood swings.
Review: Best Coast’s “Crazy For You”
Aug 10, 2010 8:56am