When Best Coast first began garnering buzz back in 2009, a big part of the project’s appeal was songwriter Bethany Cosentino’s slacker aesthetic. The word “lazy” popped up several times on 2010’s fuzz-pop winner Crazy for You, just to reinforce the point.
Since then, however, this laziness has ceased to be charming, since it has translated in unremarkable songs with simplistic melodies and dopey lyrics, all of which became increasingly obvious once the lo-fi muck of the band’s early work was stripped away in favour of big-budget production values. Consequently, 2012’s The Only Place was sonically pristine but blandly forgettable.
Much like 2013’s mini-album Fade Away, the new LP California Nights finds the band playing to its strengths by coating its songs in distortion. Contrary to what’s implied by the nocturnal title, California Nights is is an album of sonic sunshine that sounds as if it were designed to be heard while driving around with the windows rolled down or while drinking beers on the beach. It’s upbeat and fun and, on that level, it works well. Weezer’s Blue and Green records are important stylistic touchstones, as most of these 12 tracks abound in chugging rhythms and big, harmonized choruses.
The tracks don’t bear close scrutiny, however. Once again, lyrics are Cosentino’s downfall, since every song consists entirely of vague platitudes and cookie-cutter rhyme schemes. Cosentino mostly only discusses two subjects: falling in love and falling out of it. While this isn’t a problem in itself (the some criticism could be levelled against nearly all of pop music), the lack of personal details means that these songs could have been written by anyone and about anyone. All they really amount to is a string of “bad”/“sad” and “sky”/“cry” rhymes.
The only song that breaks the thematic mould is the title cut, “California Nights,” but its lyrics about Cosentino’s fondness for her home state and getting high are too-familiar topics for Best Coast. The plodding, over-long song resembles a re-write of the early single “Sun Was High (So Was I),” minus the sunburnt, damaged beauty.
California Nights works much better when the tempos are snappy and the melodies are bright and giddy. Listen to cheerful keyboard riff of “When Will I Change,” the shimmering punk charge of “Heaven Sent,” the bubblegum country licks of “Get Outta My Head,” or the honeyed melodies of “So Unaware” and the album is enjoyable as a summery lark.
But it’s getting increasingly difficult to forgive Best Coast’s lyrical shortcomings. It’s tempting to hope that she’ll step up her game next time around, but after three full-lengths and a handful of EPs and singles, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.