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Snapshot Review: Best Coast – The Only Place [Mexican Summer]

Based solely on material from Best Coast’s debut album Crazy for You, we learned four main things about frontwoman Bethany Cosentino: She likes boys (most specifically, Nathan Williams of Wavves), California, weed, and cats. It was remarkably easy to boil her down to those characteristics, and she spent quite a bit of time touring and doing interviews in an effort to break free from those labels. Delving deeper into her psyche via such interviews and her strikingly entertaining Twitter feed, we’ve learned a bit more about her, and it all sets us up quite nicely for Best Coast’s sophmore record The Only Place. First and foremost, Cosentino has said many times that this second album is more “emo” and “pop-punk” than the band’s debut. If you’ve been keeping a careful eye on what Best Coast has been up to the last couple years, perhaps you saw one of their shows where they covered Blink 182. Such moments give you a pretty good idea where some of the band’s sonic inspiration stems from. They’ve given up the lo-fi grunge of the first album and hired producer Jon Brion to add plenty of polish and space. In some respects a bit of the mystery is lost by removing the instrumental layers of fuzz generated by Bobb Bruno’s excellent guitar work. Such purposeful flaws only heightened Best Coast’s overall aesthetic as a crew of plainspoken slackers that were just like us. With everything on The Only Place coming off as pristine, it creates a new imperative that they have to take themselves much more seriously and professionally. The good news is that the melodies seem to take that thought to heart, as the guitars jangle, the vocals soar, and the hooks grab you by the ears and won’t let go. Their sonic palette has expanded a bit too, at least enough to incorporate light blushes of alt-country. It would have worked even better had they thrown in at least a little slide guitar or fiddle, but songs like “My Life”, “No One Like You” and “Dreaming My Life Away” feel like they’re channeling Neko Case in overall tone anyways. That’s probably Cosentino’s hope, though she’d be even more ecstatic to generate comparisons to her role model and personal hero, Stevie Nicks. She comes strikingly close on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To”, particularly on the multi-harmonized chorus, however that song and others are cursed with one major flaw: the lyrics. If you’re going to clean up your sound and strive for something more professional, you’ve got to back away at least a little bit from lines like, “The sun was high/and so was I” or “You say that/we’re just friends/but I want this/til the end”. Cosentino has changed her writing style a bit, moving away from the lackadaisical summer fun themes and towards the more personal and emotional. Most of the songs on The Only Place feel like pages pulled from a diary, but from a girl in her early teens and not her mid-twenties. Remarks such as, “My mom was right/I don’t wanna die/I wanna live my life,” on “My Life” are simple to a fault. The opening title track keeps the never ending cycle of songs about California going, and like a pseudo-cousin to Katy Perry’s “California Girls”, features lines like, “We’ve got the ocean/Got the babes/Got the sun/We’ve got the waves.” Don’t be shocked if you hear that eyeroll-worthy beast in a commercial soon, probably for the State of California Tourism Board. Why Cosentino’s lyrics are so poorly written has less to do with how uncomplicated they are and more to do with sheer predictability. Nine times out of ten you can guess what the line-ending rhyme is going to be, and while it may be easier to sing along as a result, that sort of blandness really isn’t helping anyone. A little more energy or even some experimentation in the songs would have offset the lyrical damage a bit, but unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of that to be found on The Only Place. If Best Coast really is planning to continue to grow into a full-fledged, professional band, they’ve still got some work left to do. The majority of that falls straight on Cosentino, who might want to spend just a little less time messing around on Twitter and a little more time trying to avoid becoming a cliche.

Best Coast – The Only Place

Buy The Only Place from Amazon

SXSW 2012: Final Thoughts + Photos

Four days, 32 artists, and one physically/mentally tired guy. That about sums up my SXSW 2012 experience. While I was stumbling around Austin in a haze the last hour of the last day, my first trip to SXSW was a wonderful experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. After hearing so many great things about the city and the conference/festival, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and simply had to go just once, just to see what it was like. The end result was largely what I expected it to be, but with a few surprises thrown in as well. My hope here is to chronicle the things I think worked about SXSW, and a few that didn’t. Also, if you click past the jump, you can see all the photos I took while in Austin. If you’d like to read about individual performances that I saw last week, have a look at the following daily reports:


The Good
Perhaps the thing that makes SXSW truly great is the sheer size of it all. There are literally thousands of bands performing over a handful of days, almost all of them within the span of about 2 square miles. Getting around from show to show isn’t bad, whether you’re on foot or feel the need to take a pedicab. Of course 6th Street can get a little packed during peak hours and create some slow downs, but it’s never anything too unmanageable, even if you need to get somewhere fast. The wide array of shows and showcases happening at any given time can also create a bit of a headache, as it’s not exactly easy to pick and choose if there are 6 artists you want to see all performing at once. Learning the city and the locations of all the venues both legitimate and illegitimate goes a long way towards helping you make such tough choices based purely on conveniece and distance from where you’re currently at. Do you go see Cloud Nothings playing down the block, or do you walk 6 blocks to see Grimes? As I see it, the decision is pretty much already made for you.

Yet there are also a few SXSW music moments that you can’t always plan for, simply because they weren’t planned. There weren’t many “secret” shows this year so much as there were secret guests like Kanye West jumping on stage at the 2 Chainz show or Eminem showing up to support 50 Cent or Bruce Springsteen bringing out everyone from Jimmy Cliff to members of Arcade Fire to Tom Morello and Alejandro Escovedo. Those extra thrills only make the experience more special. Also a major contributor: the people. Austin is already something of a cultural melting pot, but with music fans and artists coming into town from all over the world, the diversity factor multiplies by about 10. But here’s the thing aboug most music fans: they’re good, friendly people. You could strike up a great conversation with the person standing next to you in line and not blink an eye. Everybody was there because they love music, and the easiest conversation starter was always finding out who they’re most excited to see while in town. The only time I ever saw anybody get angry was when a couple of people cut in line trying to get into a show. The reaction was less anger and more, “That wasn’t cool, guys.” If we as a society behaved more like everyone in Austin at SXSW did, the world would be a more peaceful place. Unless of course you’re at an A$AP Rocky show and somebody’s throwing full beer cans at the stage. That near-riot situation was a showcase of the worst side of humanity.

But outside of good music, good people and good weather, good food is another thing Austin is known for. There were food trucks and street vendors on most corners, each specializing in a different type of cuisine. You could get breakfast tacos at one place, and some Korean version of spaghetti at another. There was plenty of BBQ to be found too. If you’re a fan of slow-roasted meats that are tender and delicious, you didn’t have to walk more than a block in downtown Austin to find some. For the cheapskates, there were also a bunch of showcases giving away free food. It’s worth noting that like grocery store samples, the “food” they give you for free is often small and may not be of the highest quality. It also gets snatched up almost immediately for those reasons as well. You’re costing yourself a potentially great meal if you’re not paying for it.

The Bad
For all the great things that happen in Austin during SXSW, it’s not a perfect situation by any means. First and foremost among the issues is overcrowding. Things may get cramped when you’re walking down the street, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening inside many of the venues. Jam packed to the gills, trying to get anywhere close to the action was tough, let alone trying to make your way back to the exit. When things did get that bad, the waiting games began. Lines built up outside venues that were a city block or more long, everyone beholden to the “one in, one out” policy. Pitchfork’s evening showcase at Central Presbyterian Church was the height of madness, and I stood in line for 3 hours, missing Fiona Apple, just to get into the 500 capacity venue. Was it worth it? Eh, kinda. Every performance I saw there was a revelation, which is more than I can say about the other venues in town. I’m not entirely sure how all these sound engineers stay employed given how many times I saw an artist ask for a levels adjustment or something broke. I know these artists don’t get a soundcheck during SXSW and they want to put on the best show possible, but constantly stopping or even aborting some songs right in the middle because of a small issue takes away whatever mojo that might have developed in the meantime. The worst night of all was at Clive Bar, where Tycho played without any sub-bass, New Build’s monitors weren’t functioning properly, and Grimes was forced to start her set even after everything wasn’t tested to see if it was working properly (it wasn’t).

Sound issues are just one half of the paradoxes that SXSW presents. The other is overextension. While SXSW can be a great thing for artists (performing in front of music industry bigwigs brings all sorts of exposure along with it), agreeing to play 3 shows a day for 4 days in a row can put you near death’s door. Touring is tough enough when you’ve got one show every night for 3 weeks straight, but SXSW is a marathon compared to that long distance run. Artists function on little to no sleep and can easily blow out their voices from singing too much. On Thursday night I saw Grimes play a perfect show at Central Presbyterian Church. 24 hours later, she had performed at least twice more before arriving at Clive Bar with a voice that was barely there. She fought against it as hard as she could, and eventually had to call it quits in a set that was also plagued with sound problems. It was a valiant effort, but likely left most of the crowd disappointed. Then again, everyone was so kind, understanding and enthusiastic, it probably didn’t matter as much as I thought it did.

Finally, I want to mention the hierarchy that is SXSW. Your amount of access is almost entirely based upon your status within the music industry. If you’re not part of the industry and are simply looking to see some free music, there’s lots to choose from if you don’t mind a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of. If there was a line anywhere, it was almost guaranteed the general public would not be allowed in, as those with badges or wristbands automatically had first dibs. Among the badges and wristbands, only the badges were given priority access into any venue. Every badge would be allowed in before any wristbands would, no matter when they showed up. Of course if I had a badge I probably wouldn’t be complaining about it, it’s just that there were so many of them. There must have been at least a dozen shows I tried to get into but was denied because the room was already filled with badges. Granted, badges cost around $900 and you should be getting something for that money, but it would be more fair if they offerend some balance like for every 100 badges let in, 10 wristbands also get in. Alas, wristband holders got the shorter end of the stick, while the general public was more shafted than anything.

To Conclude
SXSW is something that every obsessive music fan should attend at least once in their lives. It can be a genuine blast if you let it, and only gets better the more access you have. Not but a few years ago, the several day conference/festival served as a proving and development ground for new music talent. Today, that’s not really the case anymore. You may discover your new favorite band while wandering around Austin, but for the most part our discoveries are contained to the hype cycle on the good ‘ol Internet. Then again, were it not for SXSW I never would have stumbled into the band Tearist and one of the most batshit crazy/weird live shows I’ve ever seen. I’m still not sure whether it was supremely stupid or incredibly clever, but if you like incomprehensible psych-pop and somebody showing an iron beam who’s boss with a lead pipe, Tearist could be for you. Outside of the occasional exposure to an artist you didn’t intend to see, you’re quite in control of your own destiny. Unless you’re the adventuresome type willing to walk into a venue without knowing or caring who’s performing, most identify and target acts based on personal tastes or recommendations of others. With so many choices, you can use the time to check a few acts off your personal bucket list. That’s what I did, and though I didn’t get to see every artist I wanted to, I feel like what I did see was extremely worthwhile anyways, with the aforementioned issues or not. I hope I get to go again, be it next year or in 10 years. And if you didn’t go, I hope you take the opportunity to get to Austin soon. It’s a great American city, and the Live Music Capital of the World for a reason.

Click past the jump for photos of many of the bands I saw at this year’s SXSW, in alphabetical order:

SXSW 2012: Thursday

I’m going to attempt to make this Thursday recap of my SXSW adventure as brief as possible. Knowing me though, brief is a relative term. Let’s just see how this goes. Oh, and as a reminder, I’ll have all my photos for you sometime next week when I can properly edit them down.

My first stop of the day was over to Google/YouTube’s parking lot party. They had a stage set up on the roof of a parking garage and all the free drinks you could handle. Best Coast had an early afternoon set, and I wanted to hear some new songs off their forthcoming second album. I came, and the band delivered. Bethany, Bobb and two other guys played about 5-6 new ones, with a smattering of old “classics” in there too. There was “Boyfriend” and “When I’m With You”, but also “Why I Cry” and “How They Want Me to Be”, among others. Overall an excellent set, better than the last time I saw the band which was a couple years ago.

Sticking around and drinking more, I caught Cults next. In the about 7 months since I saw them last, they’ve grown quite a bit. I don’t mean physically, but performance-wise. The more touring they’ve been getting under their belts, the better they seem to get. Everything about their performance was spot on, even though I was standing right across from Brian Oblivion’s guitar amp and my ears were getting blasted. Madeline Follin is more confident behind the microphone as well, which is a big help. They played material off their debut album, and maybe a couple new ones, though I can’t be certain they weren’t obscure b-sides or something.

I could think of no place I’d rather be after Cults than waiting at that same stage again but this time for Frankie Rose. I really like her new album Interstellar, plus it’s been a little while since I saw her last. She was performing with the Outs back then, who were subsequently dropped. She’s now got a core backing band of about 5 other people, and they all do a solid job. But really it’s Rose’s show, and her masterful stage presence helps make the hot outdoor stage just a bit more bearable. She also played it pretty liberal with her song choices, pulling almost equally from her first album and her new one.

What’s sad about the Frankie Rose show and the two before it was how sparsely attended they were. Sure, that meant no lines, no fighting to get to the front of the stage, and more free alcohol for me, but those were 3 great bands I saw in a row that maybe 50 others were also there to witness. Nobody even approached the stage or hung out at the barricade until Frankie Rose started her set. Even then it was myself and 4 others all the way up there. I’m sure all 3 of those bands will have much better crowds for the rest of their SXSW, but for an event put on by Google you’d think more people would come. Or maybe it was too early/people were at the conference listening to Springsteen do his keynote. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see those performances without being packed like sardines into some small club. Which is where I went next.

Chairlift are playing about 3 shows a day every day during SXSW, and because I’m kind of in love with their new album Something, I promised I’d go see them at least once. They were playing at a small club for the Under the Radar party, and of course it was crowded. To the point where it became a “one in, one out” situation and I was stuck in a long line. By the time I got inside, the band had already finished half their set. The half I did catch was all stuff from their new album, so I walked away pretty happy. Caroline Polachek appeared to be having a blast too, which is super hard when you’re playing multiple shows every day. Part of me wants to see them again before SXSW ends to get the full set experience.

After trying and failing a couple times to get into the Hype Hotel (a venue put on by the Hype Machine) due to seriously long lines, I decided that standing in line for Pitchfork’s showcase at Central Presbyterian Church would be my next best option. In case you were not aware, the church holds about 450 people total, and Fiona Apple was set to open the showcase. So many people were in line just to see Fiona. Having seen her the day before (albeit at a much larger venue), I was far more interested in the 4 members of my Class of 2012 that were performing after her.

After 3 excruciating hours of standing in line, I was kindly granted access to the church, arriving at the middle of Charli XCX‘s set. She’s really only got a couple songs to her name right now, but she’s already being tipped as a future star by myself and a few others. Her debut album will be out before the end of the year, and undoubtedly all the songs she performed Thursday night will be on it. Everything sounds fantastic, she’s got great stage presence, and I’m intrigued to hear how the recorded versions of a couple songs sound. All in due time.

Purity Ring were up next, another band without a debut album to their name and only a couple singles floating around the internet. Their marriage of hip hop beats and smooth female vocals naturally brings the duo into the sphere of Sleigh Bells by just a little bit. Like Sleigh Bells, it’s also a whole lot of fun. Purity Ring works harder to make it special too, requesting that all the lights in the venue be turned off so they could play around with multicolored orbs that glow and change colors when struck. As visually arresting as their set was, the music was just as excellent. Singles “Lofticries” and “Belispeak” couldn’t have been more on the money, to the point where most of the other songs seemed a little weaker by comparison. It was fun and danceable, but it’s a little tough to get people’s natural reaction in the middle of a seated pew church. Still, I’d like to think the standing ovation at the end of their set was a realistic response to what we’d just seen.

Next up was Grimes, who was quick to set up and get started. She didn’t want to waste any time, nor should she have. Using plenty of looping and synths, she crafted an incredible avant-pop soundscape that was wholly engaging and rather delightful. There were a couple moments where she messed a thing or two up, and that’s almost expected when you’re doing everything on your own, but it was a very forgiving crowd and she was super goofy about it. Most of what she did involved constructing songs off her latest album Visions, however there were a few experiments in there with vocal harmonies and the like that were sheer beauty. “Oblivion” and “Genesis” both got their turn as well, the latter after she was told there was time for one more song. She then refused to stop, playing another song in spite of the house lights coming up and organizers pulling their hair out. It was over after another couple minutes though, and she was treated with another standing ovation.

Much of the crowd cleared out after Grimes, only to make way for Nicolas Jaar, who was set to compose an original set based on the church setting. I expected it to be just a little boring and quiet, because the guy isn’t necessarily big on dance-worthy beats. Yet he still managed to piece together an excellent long-form piece that was introspective and beautiful while also upbeat and fun. That’s no easy feat, and he had a couple friends on hand to provide some live instrumentation along with his laptop-composed elements. I was a little angry at all the people taking flash photos during the set, because that’s long been a rude thing to do. Of course Jaar and his band were playing in near total darkness, and if you wanted a halfway decent picture flash was needed. I took no photos for the exact reason of it being too dark and I didn’t want to use the flash. Some people will do anything for a photo, and it looked like a lightning storm or paparazzi attack for at least the first 15 minutes before tapering off somewhat. The music was amazing though, transcendent would be the word I’d best use to describe it. Go see Nicolas Jaar if you have the chance. The guy’s crazy talented.

Finally, to cap off my night I wanted a little rock and roll. After being kicked to the curb at the PureVolume House because I hadn’t picked up my venue-specific badge earlier in the day/week, I dashed over to catch Cloud Nothings performing on a rooftop. It was an extremely packed space, but even on the very busy 6th Street you could hear the band’s set quite clearly. No doubt many enjoyed their music without actually seeing any of it performed. But up on the roof people were jumping and throwing their fists into the air, like any good punk show should have going for it. Oh, and head banging. Plenty of that too. From what I heard of their set, which was about the back half of it, they played almost entirely material from their latest album Attack on Memory. It’s a great record, one of my favorites of 2012 so far, so I was having a blast. I was also super tired having been on my feet all day, but it was so much fun. A great capper to my night before heading back to the hotel to rest up for Day 3 of this madness. To think we’re only halfway there!

Album Review: The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts [Memphis Industries]

When The Go! Team burst onto the music scene back in 2004 with their debut record “Thunder, Lightning, Strike”, they had a wholly unique sound, pieced together courtesy of a multitude of samples. High energy, throwback pop is what The Go! Team specialized in, the sort that you put on during a party or when you’re having fun with friends thanks to its uplifting and easily danceable melodies. Ian Parton was the man behind the name, and while he generated that entire debut album pretty much on his own, performing it live there were dozens of new recruits that came on board to help make sure that party sound was completely evident on stage. By creating his own merry band of misfits, Parton chose to actually use them when creating 2007’s “Proof of Youth”, collapsing the first record’s sample-heavy presence into something that could accomodate more live and original vocal performances. That second record boasted guest vocal spots from legendary hip hop pioneer Chuck D and Bonde do Role’s Marina Ribatski among others, though it was Parton’s way of mixing them on an even plane with those classic samples that got him in just a spot of trouble. If you’re not going to openly feature your guests at the forefront of the songs they’re on, then why have them contribute in the first place? It was that and what basically amounted to a repeat of “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” that sent The Go! Team on the downslope of popularity. Four years later, Parton finally makes a return with the third GO! Team long player “Rolling Blackouts”, and if you liked the first two there should be no reason to dislike this one.

A blaring horn section sounds the alarm for the fast-paced swirling of opening track “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.”. The whole thing is done marching band-style, with Ninja throwing down some high speed rhymes between the rather catchy chorus that naturally spells out the song title. It’s a great way to introduce “Rolling Blackouts”, with something a bit more straightforward and darker than what we might be used to while maintaining that flirty and fun vibe. Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki lends her vocal talents to “Secretary Song”, which is pretty classic Go! Team in how it utilizes a number of samples and pushes what’s best interpreted as a small variation on the long-standing J-pop sound. It makes for one of the album’s best and most interesting tracks, but you can’t help but wonder if it’s just a little racist to pair Satomi’s vocals with those cutesy pan-Asian samples rather than almost anything else. Dominique Young Unique back on the microphone for the 70s disco-infused “Apollo Throwdown”, a nice track with a decent hook but otherwise up to expectations for the band rather than rising above them. 50s girl-group pop is what “Ready to Go Steady” has to offer, and yet again it’s a reasonable facsimile for the real thing, with sugar-sweet and innocent vocals courtesy of Lispector along with a really memorable chorus. The marching band horns return, this time mixed with a touch of xylophone for the instrumental “Bust-Out Brigade”, perhaps the most pointless and ineffective track on the entire album. It basically feels like a repeat of “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” but without the vocals. Before Best Coast became the toast of indie town, Bethany Cosentino contributed vocals to the song “Buy Nothing Day”, a track that just might be the most straightforward and mainstream thing The Go! Team have ever been a part of. Were Cosentino not singing here, this is the type of song you can absolutely imagine a female pop star armed with a guitar to reach the Top 40 charts courtesy of a big fat record label push. As it stands, the song may deserve to be massively popular but most likely will just stay confined to the indie circles where it deserves every bit of acclaim it gets. We may be only one month into 2011, but count on “Buy Nothing Day” to score some serious points when it comes to counting down the year’s best songs. Lo-fi 80s synth pop meets 70s soft rock courtesy of the short instrumental “Super Triangle”, one of the quieter and more secretly delightful moments on the record. Lush and scenic American majesty is at the heart of “Yosemite Theme”, a track that with its harmonica, horns and slight disco feel could very well have served as a theme song to a 70s TV comedy about park rangers. The London African Gospel Choir provides some interesting spice to “The Running Range”, and in fact without them the song would just be another groove-tastic bit of average fun for The Go! Team. Before closing things out, there’s one last genuine delight on “Rolling Blackouts”, and it comes courtesy of the title track. It’s a scuzzy lo-fi track that dabbles just a little bit in 90s Breeders-style female-fronted rock and roll. There are even hints of shoegaze too, and it’s again one of the more exciting and easy-to-digest songs on the album. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that the band can tackle something more modern than having to primarily stick with recycling old samples from the 60s and 70s.

It’s almost ironic that “Rolling Blackouts” the album excels when The Go! Team sound the least like themselves, foregoing samples for the sake of live instruments and pulling less of a throwback sound for something more modern and less gimmicky. At the very least, it brings some sense of evolution to the project, which would otherwise be completely ringing stale and a bit hackneyed by now. It’s been 7 years since The Go! Team first wowed us, and in order for them to continue to do so, you can’t keep relying on old habits. One thing that Parton continues to not fully understand is that not everything needs to be mixed at an equal volume level. That was the problem when he started to feature guest vocalists on “Proof of Youth” and it still hasn’t been corrected for the most part. The melody is important, yes, and all the whiz-bang instruments and samples may be impressive, but sometimes the vocals just need to shine above all others. It can mean the difference between a good pop song and a great one. Thankfully, even with some of the vocals occasionally covered up by various instruments, there’s a handful of shining moments that turn “Rolling Blackouts” into something better than it has any right to be. Not only that, but the majority of these songs remain irrepressably fun – to the point where you can’t look down on them too much. So this album is generally a good time, despite a number of questionable choices. Hopefully next time around Parton and the collection of lovely people he calls bandmates will continue to move in a better direction. If that doesn’t happen, most of us might just tire of the schtick and ask The Go! Team to just stop.

Click through the jump to stream the entire album!

Buy “Rolling Blackouts” from Amazon

Live Friday: 10-8-10

Best Coast

Here in Chicago, this weekend is shaping up to be our last fling for summer-like weather. Highs in the mid-to-upper 70s and not a single chance for rain. It should be a delight before temperatures go down the crapper. It’s important on a weekend such as this one to get out as much as possible and enjoy it, because who knows how long it’ll be until the next time. All of this makes me look back at the summer of 2010 and the great things it brought. Perhaps my favorite musical treat and the perfect soundtrack to the days of fun in the sun was Best Coast’s debut record “Crazy For You”. In honor of those memories and the last nice weekend for awhile, Live Friday this weeks is a session with Best Coast. Bethany, Bobb and Ali stopped by Minnesota Public Radio a couple weeks ago while on tour and played a couple tracks. They all sound great, as they also did when I saw Best Coast back in July. The band also does an interview where they discuss things like Bill Murray being a fan, the rumors that Bobb used to babysit Bethany back in the day, and the Mall of America. I also can’t forget to mention cats. There’s more cat talk. It’s all good, and even if you’re someplace where the weather isn’t so nice this weekend, I hope you’ll find these songs a lot of fun anyways.

Best Coast, Live on MPR 9-28-10:
Best Coast – The End (Live on MPR)
Best Coast – Boyfriend (Live on MPR)
Best Coast – Summer Mood (Live on MPR)

Stream the entire interview/session

Buy “Crazy For You” from Amazon

Album Review: Best Coast – Crazy For You [Mexican Summer]

When searching for the ultimate summer album, the key components to keep an ear out for are sunny, upbeat and fun melodies that are filled to the brim with hooks and never get too obtuse or complicated. Should be simple enough, right? After all, there’s got to be a reason why Katy Perry and her “California Gurls” are so popular at the moment. The issue with pop music like that though is how it’s spoon-fed to the masses using the “tricks of the trade”, forcing songs on you via radio and video exposure rather than letting the public choose for themselves what’s good. It’s a tragedy, and it takes away from other great artists that might be making even better music. Robyn is one person who comes to mind. The other is Bethany Cosentino. She’s the frontwoman for a little trio known as Best Coast, and their debut album “Crazy For You” is perhaps the hottest thing to come out of this summer and that’s despite soaring temperatures.

What makes “Crazy For You” so attractive is the sincere charm it oozes out of every musical pore. Cosentino is quite the personality as evidenced by both a highly entertaining Twitter account and a live show that’s simply a blast to watch. She writes songs that tend to deal with four basic subjects: boys, weed, summer, and her (awesome) cat Snacks. Her lyrics are immensely straightforward, as you learn from the very first track “Boyfriend”, where the deceptively simple line “I wish he was my boyfriend” gets repeated enough that it stuck in your head less than halfway through the 2.5 minute song. That’s the sort of thing that happens not just once, but several times across the entire record. Over half of the dozen songs on “Crazy For You” are catchy and light enough to be singles, even as they traverse through various stylistic shifts. Guitarist Bobb Bruno is responsible for many of the melodies that move anywhere from surf rock to garage rock and through classically informed 60’s pop. It’s a little bit of an adjustment from the first couple Best Coast EPs released last year, which pushed pretty hard on the fuzzy lo-fi aesthetic. Now that lo-fi has all but been shown the door and Best Coast has a record label’s financial backing to actually record something with clarity, they jump at the chance and the results have turned out better than most might have anticipated. By placing Cosentino’s vocals front and center on close to every song, she moves up into a league with notables like Liz Phair and (pre-drugs) Courtney Love, both of whom have established strong reputations for emotionally affective and tonally strident singing. Blunt honesty also comes along with that territory, and though you can’t imagine Cosentino writing a song like “Fuck and Run”, she doesn’t mean it any less when singing a line like “I want you so much”.

The barbs thrown Best Coast’s way largely have to do with a lack of sonic and subject matter diversity. Apparently writing a bunch of songs about hook-ups, break-ups and make-ups gets stale rather quickly, despite the fact that there are already millions more tracks that deal with that exact same subject matter. Hell, leveling that complaint about Best Coast is like saying The Beatles weren’t very good because of all those damn songs they wrote about love. Besides that, “Crazy For You” is a mere 31 minutes long, with only one track barely scraping above the 3 minute mark. You’re not going to get a full length album much shorter than that, so the same-ness of the record bothers you, take comfort that it will be over in the amount of time it takes you to sit through an episode of your favorite sitcom.

At this point in time we’re about 1/3rd of the way through the official summer season. Temperatures are scorching hot more often than not, and you can feel free to hang out at the beach provided it doesn’t rain too much. It’s somewhat telling that the cover art of “Crazy For You” features a beach-like animated scene of water and palm trees and sun, with Cosentino’s cat Snacks hanging out in the middle of it. This is the perfect sort of album to listen to in one of those sunny, oceanside situations whether you have a cat with you or not. In other words, it’s THE summer record of 2010. It’s also one of the year’s best. Please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. With the weather like it is right now, the sooner the better.

Buy “Crazy For You” from Amazon

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