The major label debut tends to be a benchmark on any artist's career. Pressure begins to mount concerning achieving a more popular, fuller, and highly produced sound. With a bigger budget for better studios, engineers, mixers, and producers, the major label debut has all the potential to be an album that pushes a band to the next level or finds them succumbing to the pressure of the industry while failing to live up to the standards of their fans. This happens all the time, especially in hip-hop. The switch from mixtape to album finds rappers no longer able to do the same things they did before such as illegally sample or release 20-track projects. But what happens when a rock band is put to the test? Best Coast
is the latest band to answer that question.
Notoriously lo-fi, previous Best Coast albums found the band working in a surf rock and pop world. While the music has always been catchy and fun, the recordings have been purposely punk. The underground tone in their music has been undeniable, with Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno taking influences from 60's and 70's icon that surely did not have the same capabilities of studios today. Thankfully, the duo does not suffer from this new switch up to a more grandiose and anthemic sound. The uplifting new batch of songs on their new album California Nights
shows a sense of maturity that will surely vault the band into the next stratosphere in a more smooth transition than fellow surf punk bands Wavves
may have suffered.
The title track is the best example of what the band is up to on the new album. With a focus on Bethany's vocals, the song opens with her flexing her vocals off a soft steady build up before a tight backing section kicks in. The drums' sonic volume alters as different instruments float in and out of the mix. The song writing is delicate and obviously slowly crafted as Bethany sings incredibly slowly, "California nights make me feel so happy I could die," before a killer guitar riff shows Bethany isn't selling out to the pop world. That kind of euphoria is a constant theme on the album.
"Heaven Sent" is a more upbeat jam instrumentally. It is a fast paced rocker that shows the punk rock influence of the band. While the number isn't anything groundbreaking, it's great to see a rock band still sticking to the craft and showing their influences. Vocally, Bethany sounds almost like Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day
. The jam finds Bethany praising a lover who she claims is "the one that I adore," repeatedly. The song ends on a brilliant punk riff, instead of reaching for cheesy pop vocal tricks.
"Feeling Ok" finds Bethany tackling a major issue: her mental health. With a history of depression and anxiety, Best Coast has always acted as a means of therapy for Bethany. The garage rock inspired tune finds her poetically admitting, "my doctor says that I should take it/at least I won't, have to keep faking/I know some day I'll find it where I least expect it," over a mosh pit worthy instrumental. The song begs for listeners to kick around, but the lyrical message is so deep you just get rooted in the song screaming every lyric back. The song is relatable and honest, something Bethany has always been, but now it seems even more enduring. Maybe it's the passion in her voice or the change in the recording technique, or maybe the confidence is just there in her voice now.
Throughout the album Bethany's voice shines along with the powerful production. It is more varied than any previous Best Coast release hinting that the best may be yet to come. Lyrically the album follows familiar tropes of existential crisis tied along with troublesome romances and friendships. The band has no shortage of songs attempting to show variety, including the very California sounding "So Unaware." Best Coast does just enough to continue to stand out but little prove they are deserving a bigger name in the industry. The production is a big step up recording wise, if not still cliche in the songwriting department. With a major label comes a different life, however, so maybe the next time out Bethany will have a new things to obsess over and discuss. Until then, California Nights
does just enough to argue that this is one of the best young rock bands working today.
Check out "Run Through My Head" below and pick up the album here