The current grunge revival, which is seeing the likes of Wolf Alice, Menace Beach, and Honeyblood, to name criminally few, get given a shot at the limelight has a lot to thank the ascent of California surf-rock around 2010 for. Best Coast and Wavves were the twin flagships of LA stoner fun, which seemed to be sailing in defiance of squeaky-clean, insipid pop songs about unrealistic “California girls” being unforgettable. Wavves were the uncouth, boyish take on surf, sun, and sexual frustration and Best Coast were the girl’s dreamier approach on that same romantic notion. This made Best Coast the more attractive stepping stone for drifting indie fans into the revivalist genre, but as the musical climate changed a few degrees, Best Coast were met with adversity on their second album, as the down-to-earth charm and directness of the first album, which once seemed so refreshing, saw critics grow tired of songs about missing a boy and having a cat. Instead, it was Wavves that survived the hype, as 90s revival made hipsters lust for the distorted guitars and insolence found in their punkier edge.
Now Bethany Cosentino is applying a different filter to her usual music. Feeling Okay starts with an airy melody and quickly is followed by heavy fuzzy guitar, with the familiar, warm haziness of sun and waves that they may not have pioneered but popularised, but with added grit as a statement of intent. It seems they’re attempting a similar shift from surf-pop to college-rock that Surfer Blood successfully accomplished a few years ago, perfectly aligning itself with today’s tastes in Guitarworld. Notwithstanding, it is still a familiar Best Coast manoeuvre: have the positive, catchy banger at the start and let the rest of the album pursue a more melancholic avenue.
Fine Without You further establishes the veering into more aggressive sound. It sports the ancient surf-rock formula – play four chords first, then the whole band comes in with an uber-simple melody atop. The drums mark the “one, two-two… three” rhythm that always suits the genre perfectly as it is reminiscent of handclaps, which in turn effortlessly lends itself to live crowd-incitement. Some tasteful harmonies give it an exotic touch, but a highlight is in what I suppose would be the chorus but sounds remarkably like a bridge in its rousing attack – the rhythm double-times and is matched by hungry strumming, sending the song straight down garage-rock alley.
Bethany’s vocals sound crisp and direct, sultry as opposed to sweet. Though the band’s sound is no longer so lo-fi than it sounds like you’re listening to it out of a seashell, they’re still sun-kissed – with ooh’s aplenty. Heaven Sent as a different outlook is most evident by taking a page from the Wavves handbook and cutting guitars slightly sharper. The new more-rocky-than-usual edge isn’t just a careerist, survival move; it’s always been there when seeing the band play live.
In My Eyes is my favourite song on the album – partly because it reminds me somehow of a Vines song called Ain’t No Room (check it out). The former boasts an ace guitar riff interspersed between vocal parts and has the cheekily charming audacity of a two-note guitar solo. Really, it would be over-kill if it were any more elaborate since the kick in these songs lies not in the musical dexterity, but in how hard you play and the attitude and nonchalance with which you play it.
Elsewhere on the album, Jealousy features an ascending bass line that conjures up the same feeling of uncertainty as the envy with which the song is written. In terms of actual musical evolution, the title track California Nights worth noting. It is exceptional in that it is incongruous with this particular album as a whole; it is slow, sparse, and sumptuous, even quite drug-induced in feel and subject matter.
Title track aside, I could go on and analyse every little nuance that makes each song in this album ever-so-slightly different from the others, but frankly that would be missing the point. The tired, age-old bashing stick that “all Best Coast sound the same” is shortsighted and lazy – and surely comes from someone who’s never enjoyed of the glorious racket of The Ramones and The Clash.
This album is a collection of songs about teen disaffection, fruitlessly trying to get over someone, and relishing in self-doubt and the idealisation of the subject of your affection. It is fun, compact, and fast-paced – which will translate into more boys starting mosh pits live, but no fewer woozy girls swaying to Boyfriend. It’s extremely enjoyable on condition that you remember what it’s like to be dumped for the first time – and I hope to God, for your sanity, that you do.