First, there was Crazy For You—a debut album by California surf/rock duo Best Coast whose buzzy, effected sound placed them at the fore of a whole movement of indie rock and gave frontwoman Bethany Cosentino a bit of celebrity status in the indie community.
Then last year, the duo released a follow up record, The Only Place, removing some of the buzz and adding a bit of spit-and-polish to the production. Some people didn’t like the cleaned-up sound, but I sort of did. I have a weakness for this beachy kind of rock, whether it’s “clean” or “dirty.”
But I have to be honest: with Fade Away, the duo’s latest mini-album (7 songs, too short to be a full-length, kind of long for an EP), I am left a little unsettled, wondering exactly where this band is going, or if they are actually going anywhere.
For this record, Cosentino and bandmate Bobb Bruno brought back the buzz and reverb, keeping the production a bit raw—which is great, no problem with that—but what it does is spotlight the fact that there is very little change in range between Best Coast’s first album and this one. I like the keep-it-simple approach, but the truth is that there is only so much you can do with three chords and overly simple lyrics. It really makes us as the question: is this all there is? Is Best Coast really a one-dimensional act?
What’s sad about this is that there really is a lot of potential here. I love Bethany Cosentino’s voice, and I love the fact that she wears her heart on her sleeve with her songwriting. (In the case of Fade Away, with songs like “I Wanna Know,” “Fear Of My Identity” and “Who Have I Become?”, it’s apparent that Cosentino is going through a bit of an identity crisis and allowing that to be the theme of the record.) And I have to say that there are a few moments of sonic brilliance where the melody and the music come together perfectly.
The problem is that it only seems to go thus far, and no further. The musical styles, the chords, and the rhythms vary only a little between songs, and to be honest, Cosentino seems to get stuck lyrically, so she repeats lines incessantly to fill the space. A few songs’ worth of that, and you are suddenly grateful that this is only a mini-album—seven songs is about the most you can handle without more diversity.
So despite the fact that I actually like Best Coast as a band, I have to face the reality that they seem to have hit a wall creatively. There’s just not enough range or substance here to warrant another record. They are going to have to dig a little deeper musically, or my fear is that Fade Away will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.