Sunday, July 25, 2010

Album Review: "Crazy For You" by Best Coast

I experienced my first earthquake not long after I moved to northern California a few years ago. It jolted me awake at 4:30 in the morning and I sat in bed, frozen, for a long while after the shaking stopped. Let me tell you, that shit was scary, despite it being labeled just a “mild tremblor” in the papers. The next day I threw some canned food, water bottles, a flashlight and other essentials into an old backpack and had myself my first “earthquake preparedness kit.” But it didn’t take long for me to forget about the quake—after all, it’s sunny nearly every day—and I returned to being, like many Californians, blissfully ignorant that these horrible things can happen at any time. I even joke with others about how the Big One is just around the corner. Above ground, Californians have a massive state budget deficit, an unstable tax structure, and rising unemployment to worry about. The Golden State has seen better days.

Crazy For You, the debut album from L.A. duo Best Coast, can’t fix any of that. Lead singer Bethany Cosentino seems, for the most part, blissfully ignorant of some rather large state-wide financial and seismological concerns, and also perfectly aware that California still inspires the kind of breathless adoration and promise of sunny days that makes the largest state the envy of the rest of the country. After giving New York City a shot, in 2009 Cosentino moved back to her hometown of L.A. and its miles of beaches and highway along the Pacific, big sunglasses and boardwalk candy. The thirteen tracks on Crazy For You are the lines Cosentino wishes she had scrawled in her crush’s yearbook if she had just had the courage. Track eight, “I Want To,” sums up her feelings nicely: “I want you so much / I miss you so much.” Fortunately for Cosentino, summer has just started in Los Angeles, and that should give her all the time she needs to dream about sharing a beach blanket with her crush. Or maybe just enough time to forget about him.

Crazy For You draws from a diverse set of musical influences in its breezy thirty minutes. The ‘60s girl-group and surf rock inspirations are the album’s main bookends, and merge beautifully on the album’s standout, “Our Deal.” Breathy harmonies and a doo-wop swing combine to sound like the Ronettes lending vocals to The Beach Boys. Here, Cosentino has a heavy heart, but not just over the loss of love: “When you leave me / You take away everything / You take away my money / You take away all my weed.” That bastard. On “Bratty B,” Cosentino’s appropriately bratty demeanor blends with chugging guitars to create the album’s most straight-ahead rocker, a slice of ‘90s alternative rock. Of course, one of the band’s best qualities is its fuzzed-out sound. We got plenty of it on early single, “Sun Was High (So Was I),” which appeared to channel Jesus and the Mary Chain through a lifeguard’s megaphone. Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist bandmate Bobb Bruno build a bed of distortion for tracks like “Honey” and “Each and Everyday,” but on Crazy For You the band scales back some of the shoegaze vibe from their pre-album releases.

Crazy For You will surely conjure images of crowded beaches with the sun high in the sky. But Cosentino’s summer isn’t all fun and games. While the summer days may seem endless, Cosentino knows that the sunlight still comes and goes. The more bittersweet tracks like “When The Sun Don’t Shine” and “Summer Mood” seem to encourage us to dig our toes into the sand at twilight: those two short moments each day with sunlight but no visible sun. Between dawn and sunrise, and sunset and dusk, these are the moments when love and heartbreak are equally possible. So it’s telling that the only track on the album to feature the word “summer” in its title is a glum affair. On “Summer Mood,” Cosentino stretches out the line “There’s something about the summer that makes me moooooooody” as if doing so will keep the California sun up just a bit longer. Or maybe summer's unfulfilled expectations are making Cosentino so
moooooooody? At other times, she doesn’t seem to mind the receding sunlight at all. Because what happens “when the sun don’t shine”? “You are mine,” obviously.

Best Coast tacks on “When I’m With You” as a bonus track to Crazy For You. The last thing you’ll hear before you hit repeat, it’s a reminder not only of how, but when many of us heard the band for the first time: last year in early winter, when summer felt a long ways away. The album goes by so quickly that you’ll likely appreciate it more after it’s ended. Cosentino knows that summers work the same way, so she’s given us these honest portraits of love and heartache, spread over miles of sand and surf, to hold us over until next summer. Like a flip book of memories you can thumb through at anytime, Crazy For You is a reminder that, when love hurts, summer’s there for you. And make no mistake: the best summers are in California, even if love sometimes teeters atop shifting sand.

[4 out of 5 stars]


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