Best Coast - California Nights

by James Weiskittel Rating:8.5 Release Date:2015-05-05

Nothing tests an audience’s patience quite like the sudden realization that they are no longer in on the joke. The dream-pop duo of singer/guitarist Bethany Cosentino and ‘everything-else’ Bobb Bruno, otherwise known as Best Coast, are positioned to do just that with their latest release California Nights.
    
Best Coast were something of an overnight smash, as they enjoyed a fair amount of underdog-internet-buzz with their lo-fi 2010 release, Crazy For You, and its summertime smash 'Boyfriend'. But Cosentino and Bruno soon felt the pressure of success and approached the recording sessions for their follow-up album, The Only Place, with a bit more seriousness by forgoing the 'bender' vibe that had characterized their previous studio stints. 

For their efforts, the duo quickly learned that audiences rarely like to be challenged. The response to The Only Place was lukewarm at best, with many fans citing the slicker production and more focused songs as a loss of the duo’s initial indie charm.

So it stands to reason that when it came time to make their third album, California Nights, Best Coast had two very obvious choices: return to the lo-fi, California pop of their debut, or continue on with the more rocked-out direction that The Only Place merely hinted at. It only takes one listen of California Nights to see that it’s obvious the band has gone ‘all in’ with their new direction; crafting an alt-rock classic that feels like equal parts vintage Liz Phair and pre-Celebrity Skin Hole.
    
Awash in waves of fuzz and propelled with a Bonham-esque drum sound, California Nights erases any hints of their quaint debut, featuring the duo's most focused set of songs yet. Where Crazy for You was an ode to an afternoon at the beach, California Nights is an insomnia fueled late-night stroll through downtown LA.

The album opens confidently with the swagger-infused ‘Feeling OK’, and promptly issues its first sonic middle finger with ‘Fine Without You’. The four-on-the-floor stomp of 'Heaven Sent' all but guarantees that this record is simply going to rock.  

The album is relentless in both tempo and mood, with one infectiously upbeat song following another. 'Unaware', 'When Will I Change', and 'Jealousy' all benefit greatly from Cosentino’s layered vocals and muscular guitar sound.

The true centerpiece (and only real left-turn) of the album, however, is the title track. 'California Nights' serves as anthem of sorts, channeling the sound of an endless Saturday night as it careens into an acid-washed Sunday afternoon. It's only then, during the final third of the album, that the songwriting begins to lose its edge and leaves California Nights feeling a tad front-loaded.  

The album so single-mindedly rocks that it perhaps wears out its welcome by the final two or three songs. This, however, is a minimal point of contention. While California Nights isn't perfect, it's certainly a great pop/rock album and by far the best thing the band has released.

While there was admittedly a nostalgic charm to the Best Coast of yesteryear, there was little in the way of depth to demand repeated listens. California Nights, with its lush vocals and punchy production, is a confident record from a couple of artists who no longer sound concerned with their audience or their expectations. California Nights is the sound of two musicians chasing their muse down the rabbit hole, leaving behind the fleeting sound of nostalgia in exchange for the type of self-serving satisfaction that always accompanies great albums.

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