Best Coast 2013

Best Coast’s new EP Fade Away came out yesterday. It sounds… like Best Coast. There are distorted guitars, sugary girl-group vocals, simple major-key chord progressions, jaunty tempos, arching melodies, and plainspoken lyrics about romance, sunshine, and figuring out life. You wonder if she is singing about Wavves. You imagine what the song sounded like before Bobb got his hands on it. You wish you were hanging out with her and Bobb and Wavves at some oceanside bar and drinking a cocktail with an umbrella in it. You tap your foot. You dance around in your desk chair a little bit. For three and four minutes at a time, life is good.

Or maybe life becomes excruciating in those interims — so excruciating that you feel compelled to let the whole world know. So you spout off some spiteful words on the internet — maybe something like this: “Best Coast LP3: let’s see how many times Bethany Cosentino can re-write the same three songs that constitute the entirety of Best Coast’s catalogue.” Or this: “Why do your lyrics invariably read like the asinine diary entries of an 8 year old?” Or this: “At this point, I would rate the cat much higher than the band.” Judging from the comments on the interview with Cosentino we published last week, it seems not everyone feels as fondly as I do about basking in Best Coast’s glow.

The most prominent critique I’ve noticed against the band as its catalog has accumulated is that Cosentino is repeating herself to the point of plagiarism — that her music all sounds the same. I don’t dispute that Best Coast is formulaic; you can read the recipe up in my first paragraph. (For best results, bake all day at 85 degrees fahrenheit in the California sun, then cool overnight in the ocean breeze.) But I do want to combat the notion that “formulaic” equals “bad” as long as the formula is potent.

That truism, “It all sounds the same,” often pops up when people are rejecting entire genres — clueless parents claiming they can’t tell the difference between Kendrick Lamar and Waka Flocka Flame, or flaming rockists confusing Katy Perry with Lady Gaga, or self-styled tough guys lumping Death Cab For Cutie together with Vampire Weekend. What it usually means in that context is “I don’t like this, and I’m not willing to put in the time to gain a nuanced understanding of it.” Of course there are some similarities and some recurring patterns, otherwise the entire concept of genre would be rendered meaningless. Whereas anyone with a passing knowledge of those styles can rattle off plentiful distinctions between those acts, it’s hard to make out the details from afar. The same goes with bourbon or romantic comedies: The subtle differences start to appear when you put forth the effort to become a connoisseur.

Lobbing the “It all sounds the same” argument at an entire genre often says more about you than the music you’re dismissing. I’m as guilty of this as anybody; as I noted over the summer, all those subgenre lines in metal and club music blur together for me to this day. Similarly, although I look forward to a future in which I can annoy friends at bars by sketching out the differences between Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton on a napkin, that day has yet to dawn. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any differences, it means I can’t perceive the differences because I haven’t cultivated an ear for them.

Does the same rule apply when you zoom in from the genre level to the artist level? More or less. Let’s turn again to Best Coast: Fade Away is instantly recognizable as Cosentino’s work. I could argue, as Carrie Battan eloquently explained in her review Monday, that this release actually does represent evolution for Best Coast, that songs like “Fear Of My Identity” and “Who Have I Become,” simplistic and familiar though they may be, reflect an artist wrestling thoughtfully with the big questions of growing up (“The rain it falls down/ Down onto the ground” notwithstanding). But at the core, it’s more of the same. Sonically, thematically, no matter what lens you examine it through, it fits the mold we’ve come to expect from Best Coast.

And that’s why I love Fade Away: I love Best Coast. The same preternatural charm and melodic touch that hooked me at “When I’m With You” courses through these latest songs. Yeah, it kind of does all sound the same, but I’m getting more of something I already know I like. Conversely, I find the repetitiveness of bands like Mumford & Sons or those constant punching bags Nickelback to be a downer because I’m getting more of something I dislike. It’s not the copying that bothers me, it’s what’s being copied. I could make the same case in favor of Real Estate or Cut Copy or the National — actually, I did make just such a case for the National. Even the Best Coast haters can probably find some artist in their music library that works with a consistent template. There’s room in this world for musicians like that — just ask anyone with a Ramones T-shirt.

Thanks to the media’s obsession with narrative, we’ve been conditioned to believe that an artist is only valuable if she keeps pushing her art in radical new directions and that settling into predictable molds is a sign of creative death. And as with most conventional wisdom, that’s partially true. I’d be a fool to advocate for a musical landscape where everybody picks one sound and sticks to it. Our world would be far poorer if Dylan had continued to crank out boilerplate folk songs, if Radiohead had stayed loyal to guitars, if Kanye had been content to keep pitching up soul samples. I mean, shit, I think most of us can agree it’s a good thing the Beatles tried out some new ideas from time to time. As someone who still swears by Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I’m certainly glad Jeff Tweedy indulged his restless muse rather than play to the conservative side of his fan base. (And God knows alt-country fans can be even more musically conservative than their mainstream counterparts.) Last year, I praised Sufjan Stevens for refusing to be boxed in creatively by the expectations of both the Christian and indie music worlds; I’m not campaigning for artistic stasis here.

But as I explained in that Sufjan essay, constantly ripping up the playbook can drain some of the enjoyment out of music too. We need patterns to make sense of the world. There is comfort in routine, and there is value in comfort. There is also the risk that your bold experimentation will turn out to be a bunch of bullshit. Plenty of bands would have been better off remaking their debut album into infinity, even if they run the risk of fielding the kind of accusations of artistic cannibalism Best Coast is facing from some corners. Emerging fully formed is a lose-lose situation, really: You’re going to piss somebody off whether you opt to change or to stick with what works. Ian Cohen tackled the concept intriguingly last week at Grantland in the context of Sleigh Bells, a duo that struck like lightning with debut Treats but, also like lightning, had nowhere to go but down:

But as with other debuts from similarly “this is just what we needed” acts like the Strokes, Interpol, Andrew W.K., and the xx, Treats wasn’t a perfect album, but rather a perfection of an aesthetic, to the point that a second album instantly threatens to be redundant. Which is exactly what happened on last year’s Reign Of Terror, which, like Room On Fire, Antics, The Wolf, and Coexist, gave you slightly polished “more of the same” — enough to hold you over, but not enough to make you think these guys were going to somehow improve on the formula.

To be sure, the question of whether to evolve or to stick with a formula that works is a crapshoot. As in sports, no one wants to peak as a rookie, but it’s better to become a dependable role-player with a long career than to squander your career awkwardly attempting to take on tasks that don’t fit your skill set. Some bands just aren’t built to experiment, and that’s OK. To pluck from Cohen’s examples, Jamie xx’s adventurous production work outside the band is evidence enough for me that an experimental xx record would be rewarding. On the other hand, I would have been much happier with five or six formulaic Strokes records that sound like Is This It and Room On Fire than the discography they actually gave us, one littered with risks that didn’t pay off. Rather than a new-and-improved version of themselves, they would have been better off just being themselves.

Like the Strokes, Best Coast’s basic guitar-pop is almost certainly not fit for a major overhaul. Fortunately, Cosentino seems to understand that. She is not going out of her way to become something she’s not. Unlike, say, peak-era Radiohead, she’s not actively subverting her instincts for fear of repeating herself. She is not hellbent on challenging herself and her listeners. She is comfortable being comfort food, and her continued mining of her signature sound most certainly comforts me. Listening to Fade Away feels like catching up with a good friend. As ever, it transports me to that hypothetical seaside gathering out West. And while I don’t want to settle down there, I’m happy to keep visiting from time to time as long as Best Coast will have me.

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Comments (50)
  1. i agree with most of the author’s assertions. i also don’t subscribe to the new modern notion that bands must reinvent themselves with each release and if they don’t they’re not wroth listening to anymore or they’re automatically in a creative rut or are careerists, etc.

    the strokes reference, which most readers probably saw coming from a mile away, is still a good one. i’d bet my life savings there was no conscious decision made on their part to ‘stick with what works’. they were kids in their early 20s who couldn’t help but write the fantastic songs they did. show me a band that writes something as perfect as 12:51 and decides to leave it off their sophomore record cuz it sounds too much like the first and i’ll show you a shitty sophomore record.

    yes, ‘reinvent’/'evolve’/'branch out’ if that’s what you what you can’t help doing. people gave radiohead shit for this when they went more electronic and especially so on KOL, but that’s what felt right to them.

    • But the Strokes DID aggressively try to reinvent themselves on First Impressions, and most of their experiments failed, sometimes badly.

      • i was really just referring to the first two records. but for FIOE, ‘aggressively….reinvent’ is way overstating it. they didn’t “throw out their guitars and buy turntables”. there really weren’t even that many ‘experiments’. but there was vision of division (which is rad in parts and when you’re in the right mood) ask me anything (which i kinda like but ttly get if its awful sounding to others), 15 minutes (not so good), and maybe you could toss in ize of the world in there which is a fantastic song. the production was bigger, there were a few more guitar sounds/effects not previously heard (like the solo on juicebox and the 12-string electric int he beginning of electricsityscape).

        for me, FIOE just had too many songs. it’d have left a better legacy if they pared it back to the strongest 10 and included hawaii (!!)

        • Yeah maybe poor choice of wording on my part — I just meant that they went to unnatural lengths to advance/adapt their sound/style and commercial appeal, working with David Kahne instead of Gordon Raphael, cleaning up Julian’s vocals, much shinier and “bigger” sound all around, and yeah a ridiculous album length with quite a few clunkers IMO. But I agree with your point — pare that thing down to 10 songs and it’s a whole different conversation.

        • I will fight anyone who tries to tell me that FOIE is not the best Strokes record. It basically boils down to “Ask Me Anything” – that’s the song that, for me, that took the Strokes from being a good band to a great band.

      • But kudos to the Strokes for at least trying. As Chris says, the world would be a shitty place if the Beatles didn’t try to add, for example, a sitar in “Norwegian Wood”.

        I look at a band like the Strokes who established their fanbase with the first two albums and decided to try something different. Sure, it probably ended up doing them in, but they still have a strong fanbase to this day (I would even argue that thanks to their latest album & touring hiatus, they’re only on their way up). They weren’t content to be pigeon holed; they weren’t lazy.

        I think the problem people have with a band like Best Coast is that they seem to have no desire to move forward. Hell, while their first album was solid, it certainly wasn’t a blockbuster a la “Is This It”. Chris mentioned Sleigh Bells and while, yes, odds are it’s only downhill for them, they’re at least trying to incorporate new sounds and textures into their music. It’s baby steps, but they’re trying to improve themselves. Coldplay, arguably the biggest pop band in the world (whether you like them or not), are always trying to improve themselves upon each release. I can respect a band like that.

        While I guess there’s nothing wrong with coasting on the success of your first release, it seems lazy to me and that’s something I can’t latch on to.

        • Ugh I wish I could edit these things… but I guess my point has been made.

        • “They weren’t content to be pigeon holed; they weren’t lazy.
          I think the problem people have with a band like Best Coast is that they seem to have no desire to move forward.”

          I guess that’s kind of the question though. Sure, bands could get lazy. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the difference between a band ‘honing’ and polishing their sound vs. just lazily writing the same thing over and over. And I think it’s just as respectable to develop and finesse your own sound as opposed to reinventing your sound or pushing the envelope. I think the Walkmen are a great example of this. their sound has changed, but especially over the last few records their sound has been more refined than changed.

          • Walkmen are a great example of the virtues of staying the same. Not looking for them to make titanic leaps with every album. I am perfectly content with them releasing 7/10 and 8/10 records with a few great tracks for the rest of time, even if it means they’ll probably never make another record as exhilarating as Bows + Arrows. They are one band, though, that I think could pull off experimentation if they wanted to.

          • Same could be said about The National. It’s almost a brand at this point, yet people (like me) still love it. I wouldn’t want The National to become more Kraftwerk than Leonard Cohen (though, admittedly, I’m curious as to what that would sound like). However, while their sound hasn’t drastically changed, their songwriting has, and it’s become stronger. Best Coast has been using the same songwriting scheme for all their releases.

  2. I agree with the overall argument in this… except for when it comes to Best Coast.

  3. I think bands that successfully experiment with their sound are bands that know how to maintain the very basic element of what their sound is in the first place. Radiohead may have tossed their guitars for Kid A, but you can hear traces of their “Radiohead-ism” in all their music. It’s when a band doesn’t know how to keep that root in their experiments that things flounder and they lose fans. In fact, I feel every band will face that problem. Sticking with the Radiohead example, while they have consistently offered unique sounding albums, there is no denying that they are starting to sound much more similar than their early days. The jump from In Rainbows to the King of Limbs was not that huge when compared to OK Computer and Kid A. I think they have become too comfortable with said Radiohead-ism and don’t know how to expand from there without losing that element.

    Still, bands like Radiohead love to experiment and they are known for that. Then there are bands that I feel truly just love playing the music they love to play and don’t really care to find a new sound. While there are bands that do it to keep the sales going (I think this is why Nickelback gets so much crap) there are bands that just want to play. I think Best Coast falls into that category.

    I do have to say, though, the first band that always comes to my mind when the “It all sounds the same” issue comes up is AC/DC. Will they ever stop?

  4. This dynamic is interesting to think about in relation to big UK rock bands. Elbow’s discography is undoubtedly less musically diverse than Coldplay’s, but Elbow is a band all Brits can rightly be proud of, meaning they’ll rarely get criticized for being musically monotonous. Keane has released five #1 albums in the UK. Each sounds very British, by either relying heavily on U2 or Queen for inspiration. They’ll get hammered by American and even UK press, but they accomplish their goals more often than not. Oasis’ obsession with the Beatles has been discussed for years. There seems to be a tension between ambitiously claiming a mantle from the past successors, being a cultural representative to the rest of the world of what British music is while still being artistically interesting. Americans seem less forgiving with their artists.

  5. I think it’s very possible to both love or hate a band because they keep the same style. Chris’s hating Nickelback example is good, and I’ve always enjoyed Beach House for staying the same. But sometimes a new album comes out and the quality is just lacking.

    I really enjoyed Crazy for You, but The Only Place felt like a poor rendition of the first album. I can remember listening to the song “The Only Place” when it came out and frowning at the lyrics “we always, we always we always have fun” repeating over and over to a dull melody. A band can still create great new songs that sound like their signature style, but this felt like laziness and I wondered if their talent had dried up. Admittedly, I have not listened to the latest from them, but I don’t have much motivation to.

    • Beach House is, to me, the apotheosis of this. For all the claims that Ramones wrote the same song over and over, there was quite a bit of variety throughout their catalog. I’ve listened to Beach House a ton, and I can’t tell most of their songs apart.

    • I knew Beach House would come up at some point here. After I read the article, I immediately went back and started listening to Teen Dream again. I feel like Teen Dream is where their sound evolution stopped, and Bloom is–soundwise–cut from the same cloth. That doesn’t take away from Bloom’s strength as an album though. Alex Scally says in a Pitchfork interview, “We are not making some sort of conscious choice, like, “Let’s stay the same.” I hate it when bands change between records. They’re thinking before they make music.” Of course Beach House put thought into their music, but they put it into the songwriting, rather than pointlessly imposing some narrative arc onto their career just so that people can say “this new album is their Kid A.”

      Then there’s Burial, who’s also sometimes plagued with “all sounds the same” arguments. Burial managed to stave off some of that criticism by experimenting more not with sound but with song structure. But Kindred and Rough Sleeper still sound just as much like Burial as ever, and I couldn’t be happier with that.

      I like Best Coast well enough, but Beach House and Burial have each mastered a sound that strikes me not just as good, but full-on great. Now it’s just about what each individual song of theirs will do for me, regardless of their past songs. Some sounds are just more worth repeating than others, although I have no problem with Best Coast taking that route as well.

  6. I tend to think this is a creative driven issue rather than a “redefining” issue. If a band like Best Coast stumbled upon a formula that works, then they’d probably be fools to go and shake it up two albums in, and with really not all that much steam behind them to allow them that power. Take for example Beach House…incredible band, right? What have they done that’s so different from their debut up to now? Maybe its the ‘hook’ or the marketing cha-ching, etc. Either way, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time your fingers hit a piano, you just have to sustain it.

    Radiohead mentioned above isn’t necessarily a good point of argument here because, well, they are massive, and they are afforded abilities to “expand” on their sound much more easily than, say, a Best Coast. That, and they’re, lemme see, how do I put this…um…oh yeah, more dynamically talented.

    I think this argument can fully apply to someone like say MGMT, Dirty Projectors, of Montreal or even Flaming Lips because these are bands that deliberately set out to fuck shit up musically, its just that sometimes it doesn’t stick to the walls as much as others. Whats noble is that these are bands that are driven by their own creativity and without care how it translates to popularity. Best Coast sets out to make pop songs so if it sounds the same to them all the time, then so be it. They just want to pay their bills I’m sure.

    • So would you say it would be more appropriate to criticize Best Coast for sameness if they had a hit album and started selling out stadiums?

      • Personally, I’d never criticize a band due to popularity alone. Good for them! Problem is that equation rarely works, especially with a median alternative band still slogging the club scene. There are other contributing factors to me when falling off a band wagon, because if that was the case than we all wouldn’t be Radiohead fans anymore, right? Usually, it just simply comes down to dullness. If a band keeps regurgitating the same sound on every album, its going to get redundant, and in Best Coast’s situation not churning out hooks, because let’s face it they’re pretty one dimensional when you break them down as a band.

        But to knock a band for finding a way to make their repetitive sound work would be pretty shallow. It’s not like to pull one over on ya or something and sitting in the corner going, Ha, let’s see if we can do the same thing on this album like we did on the last! They’re just exploiting what works for them.

        Look at McCartney or Bowie and their last albums…pretty impressive right? What did they do on those respective albums that we haven’t all heard before in some way or another? Nothing. They just continue to exploit their idea of how their formula works relating to them. Not so sure the Best Coast duo can continue to keep our attention in that way. But bless em, man! Wish them the best…

        As Lars Ulrich once said when asked how he felt about being labeled as sell outs a few years back (and I’m paraphrasing), his reply was simply, “Hey man, if we were accused of selling out stadiums for years to come than I’ll take that every day.”

        • Good points there, but I think to an extent artists like Bowie and McCartney have earned the right to do whatever they want in most fans’ eyes. They may not be delivering something completely fresh, but they have in the past. They paid their dues, so to speak. Bands like Best Coast still have something to prove, and while that something might just be consistently solid guitar-pop, it may not be enough for longevity.

          In the end, Best Coast’s music is highly enjoyable. I like it a lot. The real question for me isn’t “should I dislike this band because of sameness?”…because it really is their choice what music to create and if I don’t like it I just won’t listen to it. The question is more, “will I still reach for a Best Coast album 10 years from now?” If a band is striving to be remembered like the Led Zeppelins and Pink Floyds of the world, they do need that big hit album…but then they also need to expand after that point. Or at least have an incredibly unique sound that is instantly recognizable (like AC/DC…samey? yes…but anyone else trying that style out is immediately disregarded as an AC/DC clone).

          If Best Coast aren’t aiming for that, then by all means they can keep doing what they are doing. But after 3 or 4 of the same album, I’m going to move on and find 10 other bands that can fill the hole they leave behind. I’m still on the fence about whether or not Best Coast fits in with this…but when I see creative potential in a band, I get really disappointed when they don’t capitalize on it.

  7. I think part of being a creative person is you are restless. You move on. You are constantly searching. Thats just being an artist. You are inspired by Scorsese for one album, then a breakup happens and you write about that for the new record. Thats just being an artist.

    However some artists arent willing, or cant do the Radiohead or Bowie thing. Changing it up every album is tough. Its scary. its experimental and its risky.

    Once you throw in money you also throw a wrench in the mix. If a band hit it big and made millions off a certain sound and style, it makes complete sense why theyd feel pressure to remain as they are and put out status quo albums that sound the same.

    The whole reason why Radiohead is sacred is because few bands pull off what they did. Most bands dont do it. And cant. Or wont.

    • Radiohead need to go back to writing actual songs. They have yet to top Pablo Honey.

    • I still don’t agree with the emphasis put on experimenting and making drastic changes in one’s art. Sure Kid A was impressive in that sense, but when I listen to it I’m not thinking “this is great because it’s so different from OK Computer.” I’m thinking “this is great because it’s great. It sounds great and I like the lyrics.” When I listen to it, it doesn’t matter what came before. They could’ve gone from Pablo Honey straight to Kid A and it wouldn’t have ultimately mattered to me (though what a story THAT would have made). All it would have changed would be my expectations, but expectations only matter before I hear something, not after.

  8. Hey, Beach House released the same album three times and scored 3 different BNM reviews on Pitchfork.

    I agree that people tend to ‘ok’ repeated sounds when they enjoy the sounds. I must say that when artists veer into the popier end of the spectrum, repeating a sound is embraced and creating a new one (regardless of the ultimate quality) is almost always punished. Look at JT’s return to disposable pop dribble and all the money that’s made him this year. Now remember how much shit Kanye got (and still gets by some listeners) for 808′s and Heartbreaks. (Although now I could bring up Daft Punk’s year and totally ruin my argument.)

    I do think that Best Coast sits in that category of pop that isn’t as concerned with progressive sound making (I mean they ARE touring with Passion Pit) so for them to make essentially the same album as their first could be a smart move for their demographic.

    • ha, Seriously I dig Beach House a lot, but all their albums do sound the same. But if it ain’t broke why fix it?

      • Hey I play that shit all the time, but I think really any of the songs on any album are interchangeable.

        On Bloom it sounds like there are audio samples taken literally from their first two albums – this just comes off as lazy to me. I really love the music but I think in Pitchforks case it can be hypocritical given their reputation for critically punishing artists who are complacent in their sound over several LPs.

  9. Love this.

    I agree with someone above who said Best Coast get a lot of hate because they don’t have a signature style to call their own, like the beach houses etc of today. Despite how often The Strokes have changed over the years, parts of their “sound” have never left. But this is what happens when you have a simple aesthetic. All the best bands with relatively “simple” sounds have all figured out a way to portray their music so it is almost instantly recognizable. Best Coast… have not.

    The Sleigh Bells types of today suffer because having such a unique aesthetic dies FAST due to the fact that their sound can almost never be adapted to where they remain relevant. Swaying too far from a simple aesthetic may give you fame and fortune at first, but in the long term never turns out well.

    Ultimately, we all love what we love. I wish I could develop an argument against how much I dislike Best Coast, but one of my favorite bands is Real Estate – who eventually (although not yet) I fear will suffer from the same argument.

    • more real estate please.

      • I actually just saw real estate last night at the Troubadour and they played some new songs that I was really into. With an added keyboard their sound is tighter, more mature, and sounds a lot fuller than “Days”. As much as you can lump them into one of these bands that don’t do anything to stray away from their sound I think that with their new material they are instead choosing to expand and fully form their sound. This is what I love to see in a band. I love to see them grow and master their sound rather than just settle for what “works”. Bands like Best Coast are just the type of music you put on when you have a girl in the car or just need something a little less challenging to listen to after indulging in some more high brow stuff. Not to say that there is anything wrong with this approach because I believe these type of bands will always be needed for balance, but at the same time I wish they would try to dig a little deeper into what they are capable of especially with the song writing. True artists to me seem like the type of people who know that music is limitless and always changing, and whether or not they conform to the changes is up to them but they always improve their sound regardless of whether it fits the times. Best Coast just don’t seem like they’re trying very hard I guess. Also, with the Strokes argument (and all other bands that start off ridiculously good and kind of fizzle out) I think you can draw comparisons to what happens to a lot of rappers once they make in the big time. Being young and unknown allows you to write really good songs because, well, you kind of have to if you want to make it. Once you make it as an accomplished musician you either thrive or lose the very thing that made you great in the first place. It happens to most bands and its kind of painful to see bands try to carry on when its clearly time to just start a new project. There are really only a handful of bands that I think can truly just keep spittin out the same record more or less (Dino Jr. being a heavyweight in that category) but with “Fade Away” I think Best Coast will just fall under my radar until they dig a little deeper into their abilities as artists.

        • “Bands like Best Coast are just the type of music you put on when you have a girl in the car.”

          That might be one of the most (inadvertantly?) sexist things I’ve read in a while. So, you’re ostensibly dumbing down your music because you can’t imagine that any girl in your car could handle your usual (and as suggested, superior) musical selections? That’s rubbish.

          Pro tip: try playing the music you actually like instead of what you think she may like in the hopes of getting in her pants.

  10. After “Just Like Honey” The JAMC basically spent the rest of their career remaking that song and it’s totally fine with me.

  11. True, bands don’t have to create a new style for themselves every album… but they do have to at least create a style for themselves. A style which needs to be invented or at least altered to suit the band, which is something Nickelback especially didn’t do (they’re practically Creed without the Christian sentiment). And I swear, no matter what anybody says, modern country all sounds the same. No joke.

    • you need to qualify that with ‘mainstream’ country. there’s no shortage of new alt. country out there that sounds as removed from the tradition as the beatles’ white album was from 60s pop groups.

      • I see what you’re saying and I am not trying to attack you but The Beatles White Album is entirely inseparable from 60s pop groups. That album has 60s pop written all over it. The Beatles are the epitome of traditional right down to the vaudeville melodies McCartney’s been hashing out for almost half a century. Even when they were The Quarrymen they were right in line with several other groups in the Liverpool scene. Don’t get me wrong The Beatles are a well known band and I like them but they were more of the middle-man to a lot of other music that they co-opted. And I don’t mean that negatively.

        Also, country is so far removed from its roots to be almost indistinguishable from hard rock, speaking from a theoretical standpoint. Alt. Country is in the same boat, there’s really nothing alternative about it other than it being somewhat less repetitive in its sequencing. Other than that there is very little significant difference. The argument in both of these cases that I can see being used is from sentimentality and there just isn’t any way to justify that kind of claim short of reflexives and projection. Both of which are fairly problematic.

        Taking this into consideration I will say however that Alt. Country is well on its way to reclaiming the losses the genre as a whole has incurred from outside audiences not necessarily familiar with the whole history and whatnot. To me this is a great thing, but there’s still a long way to go in my opinion.

        As far as Best Coast is concerned they really don’t appeal to me. I have seen them before and its kind of interchangeable. I understood what she was saying because her voice was so pronounced in the mix but the music was secondary. Bands like Motorhead have a similar career trajectory. I can’t tell you what the songs are called if I was forced to in a random sampling. But when I saw them I was able to hear differences. I can’t really say the same about Best Coast. But this is all just from my perspective, it could very well be the case that they have diversified their setlist and songwriting in ways I just didn’t notice. Although most of me feels that their in the same boat as chillwave. And I’m not sure how much longer chillwave will be coming out. It could just be a short lived thing.

        • You’re wrong. If the Beatles are traditional, they are only traditional in hindsight because so many artists followed their lead. Beatles albums were major events, not just because the songs were great but because fans and fellow artists alike were eager to see where they would take rock music to next. They changed rock n roll (Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard) into what we call rock. A lot of the things you may take for granted as being status quo for rock music were considered weird and experimental in the sixties, and a lot of those things did start with the Beatles. They were the first well-known band to intentionally release a recording featuring feedback (I Feel Fine), and they pioneered studio techniques that remain in use. Most music scholars agree that the Beatles’ break from the old rock n roll began circa Rubber Soul. The White Album perfectly defines everything rock was in the sixties, but it is also contains the blueprints for a lot of what rock would become. Some of the Beatles albums are very clearly works that had to originate in the sixties, but the White Album is amazing because it sounds like it could have been made yesterday. It is timeless.

  12. YES! My landmark cat quote lives forever in this article! Oh man, Chris, I was wrong to write you off so soon as a mere Tom Breihan, Jr. Sometimes you’re actually willing to come out and play. I like that. Just so you know, though, I’m perfectly alright with formulaic songs as long as they are well-executed; I’m a huge NIRVANA fan, for God’s sake. I’m NOT okay with every song apparently being about nothing. Good art costs the artist something. A stylistic risk is totally unnecessary in rock, no matter how thrilling it might sometimes end up being. Emotional risks are what Best Coast (like most lame bands) lacks. I don’t hate the lyrics because I’m expecting brilliant poetry from rock bands–far from it. I hate them because they are so bad that they make it seem impossible that the songs are about anything meaningful (even if, by some miracle, some of them really are). What is insane is that it’s not even that hard to write really simple but decent lyrics that are designed as a vehicle for honest emotion (which is all they HAVE to be to not be awful) rather than a predetermined rhyme scheme. That is also the difference between old Weezer and everything after Pinkerton. Rivers stopped being honest, i.e., stopped being an artist, and became a one-man pop rock factory. The lyrics weren’t the main problem, but they certainly were a symptom Rivers’s main problem, a deep-seated unwillingness to trade moments of emotional vulnerability for inspired music. I’m into indie rock for catharsis and a sense of connection with my fellow humans. If I just wanted sweet, disposable pop nuggets, well, I wouldn’t need to even bother with a site like this, would I? There’s no shortage of that dreck on the radio.

  13. The solution is consistent inconsistency. In other words, Ween.

  14. couldn’t the author have just stripped this article down to “Best Coast don’t really have the talent or no how to do anything other than simplistic jr high school pop”
    I dont care for best coast really – start your downvotes! – and the reason isn’t that they produce the same album again and again. the reason is that they just dont have any creativity – and yet for some reason get indie cred.
    there are at least 10,000 girls in the united states right now at home making songs exactly like beth. i just dont get why best coast got picked as the star. was it the cat? was it the weed? is it the association with wavves?
    what is classic – is as an artist i read the closing paragraph of this article i would feel pretty damn shitty. ” She is comfortable being comfort food, and her continued mining of her signature sound most certainly comforts me.” So basically she is mayonnaise. What artist wouldn’t want to be mayonnaise?

  15. i should get downvotes for the ‘no how’.

  16. I love Best Coast! And I really love this album. I was really disappointed in their sophomore album, where I felt like Bethany was trying too hard to go in a new or different direction. I tried really hard and made valiant efforts to like The Only Place, but at the end of the day I don’t really like it. And I didn’t really like hearing the songs performed live either. However, I’m really excited about this album because I feel like it’s Bethany going back to what got her started in the first place, only more polished. I still miss the grungier, lo-fi sounds of early BC recordings and the surf pop tunes of Crazy for You. But I think this album is fantastic and helped remind me why I love this band. I can’t wait to hear these songs performed live.

  17. This ground has been thoroughly tread already above but I figure I should say something being that I was quoted in the original post.

    No, I don’t think bands have to re-invent themselves and no, I don’t generally have problems with formula. Folks have mentioned some of their favorite bands on here who produce what could be described as formulaic music. One of mine is Bad Religion. But in any case when a band puts out a new album it sorta depends where on the spectrum they fall: did they literally copy and paste from the last album, or are they now nearly unrecognizable? This is all arguable.

    Here’s my feelings on Best Coast:

    1) I generally like the sonic aesthetic. Some of the melodies are catchy despite their simplicity and I appreciate that. Many are boring to me, or consist of chord progressions that I don’t find aurally pleasing.

    2) Songs are too damn similar for my liking. It causes listener fatigue. If you like coming home to the same meal seven nights a week for three months because it’s comforting, that’s nice. (Although, okay, I’ll give you that best coast wrote a new number called “Fade Away,” which brings their grand total up to four songs.) I can’t help that my knee-jerk reaction to the new LP was boredom.

    3) Best Coast’s lyrics are one of the most prominent elements of their music, and they’re also arguably the weakest, for a few reasons. I’m a student like a lot of you and don’t have time to root through youtube and lyrics sheets for bits I remember vaguely for the sake of an internet discussion, so let’s agree upon a few points.

    -The lyrics and rhyme schemes are simplistic to a flaw. Sometimes words or phrases repeat over and over again with diminishing rather than magnifying impact.

    -Best Coast songs are narratives. They’re little stories. I can’t give a shit about the narratives when the mood, tone and subject either a) contain the emotional sophistication of a fifteen-year-old’s English homework, or b) change dramatically in the middle of a song for no reason.

    What am I talking about? Take “What They Want Me To Be.” you get about two minutes of an adolescent lament regarding familial expectations. Or whatever. The song title is self explanatory. Okay, it’s fucking endearing. Anyway in the middle of the song she switches to, “I want youuuuu, youuuuuu…” -wait what the fuck ? This is now another Best Coast boyfriend lament. Maybe this is invisible to some listeners but this utterly breaks the experience for me.

    As a listener, I make some connection with the music, whether it’s instrumental, or more lyric focused (e.g. Hip Hop) or both. That’s what allows for enjoyment. Like I said, Best Coast IS a lyrics-focused band. Songs feel designed at times to support or propel the narrative. With all that I’ve mentioned about Best Coast there’s really little to none I can connect with as a 26 year old guy. The more I listen to Best Coast, the more it hits me in the gut like – wow, you are a 20-something stoner chick who does bong rips all day on the beach and waxes melancholy about your stoner boyfriend. That’s just not something I fuck with intellectually or emotionally. If you like Best Coast that’s cool, people like different things. I wouldn’t say I hate Best Coast. I like a minority of their stuff but otherwise they bore me.

    This ended up being longer than I wanted.

  18. It’s not that Best Coast has a nice formula and is sticking to it. That’s fine. Lots of bands do that, and we like it.

    It’s that they are almost literally writing the exact same song over and over again, and it’s a song that is already pretty basic and simple that gets a little boring after a listen or two. There are no surprises, no turns, and nothing deep or interesting enough to keep your attention. I can’t think of a band to better represent “If you’ve heard one of their songs, you’ve heard them all.”

    I think she’s a beautiful singer and can write a very nice melody, but the lyrics and utter repetition and simplicity in all of their songs just doesn’t keep my interest very long.

  19. I hear a lot of shit music that gains popularity for a few reasons: #1 – repetitive choruses of “whoa, whoa” and “hey, hey”, etc.; #2 – music labels seize on a demographic by having their 20-something performers (they’re really not musicians, right?) dress in jeans & plaid shirts with sorry-ass facial hair, and the occasional woman thrown in for harmonic balance; #3 – the lyrics don’t tell a story or examine an issue — it allows you to “get lost” in the music, while scrolling through banal social media, all the while responding to your fellow subhumans with a “Wait, what?”…Your generation is on fire, but you’re so lost in a sea of self-congratulatory behavior that your demise won’t even be captured in song…

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