Echoes of California Past? Best Coast Is the Real Deal

by M.C. Antil on November 22, 2010

Best Coast's Bruno and Cosentino: Low fi California pop at its best

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard some music critic or writer declare that yet another up-and-coming group or singer evokes Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and/or the rich harmonies and lilting aural textures of Sixties California pop.

Either that, or that I had a nickel for every time I’ve subsequently listened to such music only to find it, at best, a pale imitation of the lush, atmospheric harmonies of all that sun-washed surf music.

And as someone who refuses to lock himself in a time warp, and who regularly seeks out  new music, I am constantly on the lookout for contemporary artists who, unlike so many of their counterparts, don’t run screaming from such things as melody and harmony, but actually embrace them.

That’s why I was so excited recently, while listening to Sound Opinions (Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ terrific weekly music talk show, produced by my local NPR affiliate, WBEZ), to have discovered a California group calling itself — proudly, I might ad — Best Coast.

Best Coast is a trippy, lo-fi pop trio.  And its de facto leader, Bethany Cosentino, is the daughter of a professional musician and a little girl reared on the music of Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector and Fleetwood Mac.  Together, she and her band have fused the evocative melodies of the music her parents used to play around the house when she was a kid to the lo-fi noise and distortion they all grew up with in the post-punk, grunge-dominated Nineties. 

As a result, Best Coast has achieved a sound that calls to mind at various times, surf music wistfulness, garage band fuzz and girl group spunk.

If this were a Hollywood pitch meeting, I’d say they’re the Beach Boys meet Yo La Tengo, with a touch of Lesley Gore.

I have little doubt I will write more about Best Coast later, given how much Cosentino, the group’s vocalist and principal songwriter, blew me away on their initial release.

But in the meantime, check out the video below, a shimmering example of the kind of pop magic Best Coast is capable of producing, often using little more than a simple melodic hook, a single emotional conceit and a bare minimum of lyrics.

(And keep in mind that in one bar of music these three kids are able to capture the essence and vibe of the Sixties far better than Mad Men does with its entire army of art and costume designers.  And as further evidence of just how much Cosentiono and musical partner Bobb Bruno totally get the whole Sixties vibe, consider the visual source they chose for the video below: scenes from the 1966 James Garner movie, Grand Prix,  which to this day continues to absolutely reek of Sixties-vintage, Euro-chic innocence and Steve McQueen-like Formula One cool.)

Do yourself a favor.  Someday go to the Sound Opinions archive (# 258) and listen to the interview with Cosentino and Bruno. Then, take an hour or so and explore the fun-as-hell, lo-fi stylings of a band that really does recall the California of a younger, simpler and far more more hopeful America — Best Coast — a band recently named by Bruce Springsteen as one of his personal favorites, and one of the coolest, most intoxicating indie bands working today.

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