After almost a month of listening to Best Coast's third full-length album, California Nights, I've come to this crazy realization... I totally love it! When I first heard it, I was very disappointed. Most of the record is very slow paced and I thought the lyrics didn't have a lot of variety or substance. As I kept playing the songs on my iTunes shuffle or in the car, I discovered the album's vivid, idealistic sound from beginning to end, and a structured cohesion that Best Coast had never previously achieved. Even though it's not my favorite album in their discography, to me, this album shows the most growth and maturity.
It reminded me of when I first heard Crazy for You. I wasn't particularly enamored. I listened to it once or twice and hardly listened to it again until about two years after the album's initial release. This also was the case with The Only Place. When I first heard this, I wasn't very thrilled with the lack of reverb, but after listening to it a couple times thoroughly while cleaning my apartment, I discovered the beautiful simplicity the songs had. After listening to California Nights and having the same experience, I'm pretty sure Best Coast are growers and not showers.
Strangely enough, from what I've read in interviews, it sounds like Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno were trying NOT to think about how the record should “sound” and how it would be perceived when the album came out. Cosentino states in an interview with PopMatters: “With California Nights, it was more of a reaction to just going with the flow, just going in there and not having anybody come in and tell us what we were doing or when they needed the first single.”
By not paying attention to this, Cosentino and Bruno managed to make these songs sound almost like a concept album-- a representation of the surfer lo-fi vibe they've had all along. “California Nights” and “Heaven Sent” are prime examples of this representation. The songs are probably the weakest lyrically on the album (and maybe, dare I say, the weakest lyrics Best Coast has ever recorded: “California nights make me feel so happy, I could die”? Really, Bethany? I'm not so sure about that). However, the lyrics aren't necessarily the important parts of these songs; it's the instruments and what you picture while listening. It's Cosentino's strong monotone yet emotionally charged voice that hooks you.
Best Coast's ear for catchy melodies is also what makes this band great. Cosentino can take three simple chords and transform them into a throwback beach anthem that will be stuck in your head for days. On California Nights, “In My Eyes” and “Jealousy” come to mind. There's definitely talent there and I think there's always been somewhat of a debate about this among fans and music lovers alike: Are they talented? Their lyrics aren't their strong suit-- does that mean they aren't talented? I mean, they can play guitar. Can these songs be technically considered "good"?
Lyrics are a plus, but they aren't everything. Some people might think so, but I don't think that's fair. And the answer to these questions should be that the music speaks for itself. Don't critique this band for what they're not; embrace what they do best.
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