To hear Best Coast’s throwback indie-pop, it can be hard to tell whether frontwoman Bethany Cosentino is an old-fashioned hopeless romantic or a Twitter-era AD/HD flirt, the blogosphere’s it-girl of the moment. As a songwriter, Cosentino has a command of the necessary elements that go into pop songs that could stand the test of time, while having a good sense of what’s current musically and culturally. You can hear her keen grasp of past and present on the title track of Crazy for You and on the doo-woppy “The End”, both of which sound like Cosentino and collaborator Bobb Bruno could’ve sampled the “oohs” and “ahhs” from an obscure 1960s compilation, then posted ‘em straight on their MySpace page. So while the debut album’s stories and aesthetic are familiar enough, there’s something about Best Coast’s take on unrequited love and burning yearning that’s refreshing and in the here-and-now.
Certainly, Crazy for You takes part in the trends of the day, making the most of the lo-fi revival’s retro fetish. While it’s hard not to notice how Best Coast’s get-to-the-point melodies and sugar-coated vocals recall peers like Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, Cosentino’s approach to punk-pop places its emphasis on the latter term rather than the former to give her unabashed two-minute love songs an almost timeless feel. While its contemporaries use the underground’s heroes and forgotten favorites as their main influences, Best Coast looks more to the classics and oldies for inspiration, letting more light and good vibes into its pop confections. Drenched in reverb, but basking in sunny harmonies, “Each and Everyday” splits the difference, starting out like K Records cute-punk number, only to turn into a thrift-store version of a Pet Sounds song in its coda. Overall, Best Coast’s riffs are more tuneful, its moods more fun, and—most importantly—the vocals sweeter and more sentimental.
But the reason why Best Coast’s hot-and-bothered boy-crazy pop songs might be built to last is that Cosentino’s fragmented stories and character sketches are so shrewd and evocative, no matter how short and fleeting they appear to be. Along those lines, the best reference point for Crazy for You is Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, another album that was made for its times while possessing something that’s enduring. Maybe Cosentino isn’t as brash and scandalous as Phair seemed in the early 1990s, but it’s not hard to think of her as Phair’s kid sister who doesn’t find casual sex, recreational drugs, and a marginally employed lifestyle to be so transgressive and guilt-inducing almost two decades down the line. So while Phair reluctantly wants “all the stupid old shit like letters and soda” on her most memorable song “Fuck and Run”, Cosentino updates the sentiment with some stoner good humor, singing, “Nothing makes me happy / Not even TV or a bunch of weed” on “Goodbye”. And like Phair once was, Cosentino is a sharp, witty chronicler of her prolonged adolescent demographic, like on the possibly autobiographical “Bratty B”, probably the only break-up song that’s centered around a missing t-shirt (“I’m sorry I lost your favorite t-shirt / I’ll buy you a new one / A better one).
Even if the sensibility and the subject matter are a little different these days, Best Coast’s catchy tunes still depend on the basic foundations of good time-tested love songs, using simple, stuck-in-your-head hooks to convey the complex thrills and agonies of crushing on someone who doesn’t notice. Since the mood of the music is so bright and bouncy, it’s easy to overlook Cosentino’s neuroses and blissed-out frustrations, which put Best Coast’s love songs squarely in a genre that seems almost universal, whatever the particulars and configurations. On “Boyfriend”, she frets that she can’t measure up to the “other girl” in a could-be/wannabe love triangle: “She’s skinnier / And prettier / She has a college degree / I dropped out when I was seventeen”, Cosentino croons, all in a single breath. While Cosentino likes to make you think that she’s too chill (or baked) to sweat anything, she shows how a Gen-Y perspective on relationships nonetheless harbors its own constant anxieties and inevitable disappointments. Best at expressing the unclear and unspoken complications of getting caught between being friends and lovers is the melancholic girl-group pop of “Our Deal”, which evokes the point in any relationship when you can’t figure out all the mixed messages and whose deal that is.
Maybe a little more variety wouldn’t hurt Crazy for You, since the love you/want you/miss you lines blur a bit as the album runs on. Then again, it’s a good thing that Cosentino is too busy chasing her desires and infatuations to worry about whether her longing love songs might seem redundant or clichéd or sappy. You might think you’ve already heard much of what Best Coast has to offer, but Crazy for You shows there’s always a novel way to tell an old story.
// Notes from the Road
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