Dodging The Fuzz

Over the summer, I’m going to be reviewing a lot of relatively new albums. . .

Musicians often start their careers by erecting walls of guitar fuzz around their melodies, as if these young chord progressions need extra protection, time to grow and mature before they can operate alone in the world. As a singer becomes more confident and identifies what he or she really wants, these walls may slowly be dismantled. (Think of the gradual progression of the 90s band Pavement, where each album was cleaner in sound than its predecessor.) On the second release from Beth Cosentino’s band Best Coast, The Only Place, listeners can hear those obscuring walls of noise coming down.

Performing in 2010, Best Coast’s framework was the same as it now—simple guitar melodies and songs about love—but the songs were cloaked in speed and layers of fuzz. This caused a strange dissonance at her shows, as kids started a relatively violent mosh pit while Cosentino sang sweetly about wanting to be a girlfriend. At the time Best Coast fit in (and occasionally shared personnel) with other indie-rock girl-groups like Dum Dum Girls, the Vivian Girls, and Frankie Rose. It was a world united by an appreciation for both the 60s pop innocence and the ways that innocence gets warped by punk’s noise and pace.

But Best Coast and it’s fellow female-led noise-poppers have all evolved away from their roots. Now Cosentino has little interest in distortion, effects pedals, and inciting mosh-pits. Mostly guitars chime clearly and the drums lay down simple, no-nonsense rhythms, reminiscent of the janglier side of the Velvet Underground. Tracks are around three and a half minutes.  This is pretty quick by some standards, but longer than on the first Best Coast album, which sometimes bludgeoned through songs in under two minutes.

Cosentino sings almost entirely about being in love, wanting to be in love, and the negative side effects associated with both those conditions. “Let’s Go Home” starts with the same lines as the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” (which Best Coast has covered before), and the Beach Boy’s straight-laced honesty is obviously important to Cosentino. It’s not surprising when a string section shows up on “Up All Night” to back her up as she assures someone of her fidelity: “I don’t know what week it is cause I’ve been up all night/ I wanna see you, I wanna see you/ forever and ever.”

Cosentino may like 60s pop innocence, but she’s not naïve.  She hints that she’s aware that those who loved her for her blistering speed and feedback may not be thrilled with her new approach. There are subtle affirmations of Cosentino’s independence from this pressure—when she sings “I don’t want to be how they want me to be”—and maybe even regret about her earlier style: “When I go to sleep at night/ I’m wishing for a change/To go back in time/Make what’s wrong feel right.” Coseninto is a tunesmith, and there’s only so long you can hide from who you are.

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