Album Review: California Nights

Best Coast, a band that played a role in bringing chill-wave into popularity courtesy of their lo-fi production, and lyrics about cats, boyfriends, and wishing your cat was your boyfriend, have been trying their best to find their true sound since their emergence five years ago. After a disastrous sophomore release, the band successfully resuscitated themselves, making the remarkable transition from being lo-fi bedroom based lurkers, to pop-rock mavens on their seven track EP, Fade Away. Honing in more on the clean, polished sound that they had introduced on their second album, Fade Away effortlessly combined echoing drums, Bobb Bruno’s melodic guitar tone, and Bethany Constellano’s double tracked vocals into a short, sweet, and nearly perfect release. It appeared that Best Coast had finally turned a corner with their sound, and were now confident enough to release an album that they felt would be their most complete and memorable to date.

Image result for best coast california nights

The duo’s third album, generically titled California Nights, is essentially a continuation of the sound that Best Coast dove into on Fade Away, and while it remains a pleasant listen, it often shows the limitations of the band and their new sound by driving it into the ground without any hesitation. There are only so many times you can create songs based off of the same melodies, tempos, and chord progressions, and unfortunately, there is very little that stretches the limits of their sound on here, and even less that will stick out as being better than any of the material on Fade Away. The similarities begin to pile up on songs like “So Unaware,” “Fine Without You,” “Run Through My Head,” “When Will I Change” all sound like simple rewrites of previous tracks, and after a while, you begin to realize that you yourself could play the same down-beat, bass pedal heavy drum pattern that often emphasizes the verse structure and the hooks. Lyrically, Consentino still focuses on the topics of love, loss, and regret –and, in true Best Coast form, there are some truly cringing moments (the way Consentino delivers “I sit around/you watch TV/you ignore me” on “In My Eyes” and “this love will be the death of me/and you’ll always be a part of me” on the forgettable “Fading Fast” stick out as two of the worst). Ultimately, the lyrics perform their essential function of mimicking the melody of the music behind them, but unfortunately, nothing more. To be blunt, a good number of the twelve tracks on California Nights are not very dynamic or far-reaching, and often sound more pedestrian or paint by numbers than anything else.

That said, there are highlights, mainly in the choruses. “Jealousy” has an irresistible, repetitious “sha-na-na” that drives the melody of the song straight into your head, “In My Eyes” shows off Consentino’s strength at hitting high notes, and opening track “Feeling OK” opens up the set nicely, but perhaps that is only because it is the first instance of hearing essentially the same song on the album. The ultimate glimmer of hope for most fans of this band comes in the form of the title track, which is, surprisingly, the longest track on the album by over a minute. “California Nights,” is an atmospheric gem that sounds nothing like the other tracks on here, and it sounds even better in context mainly because it lets the album breathe a little bit. Consentino’s voice echoes, the guitar slowly rings and drones; it touches on shoegaze, but never fully escapes the band’s pop sensibilities, coming off as an easier to swallow version of Mazzy Star. If the title track, alongside the slow-burning final track “Wasting Time,” are any indication of where the band might be heading in the future – away from the straight up pop-rock arrangements and more towards a polished and simultaneously atmospheric sound, then perhaps Best Coast’s next release will be the one that ends up defining their career.

[originally published on Sputnikmusic on May 1st, 2015]

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