It's a cliché to say that music has the power to transport the listener to a different place, but given the recent resurgence of surf-pop, that statement has taken on a very literal meaning. Musicians like John Dwyer and Ty Segall have made the sun a hot commodity by serving as coastal ambassadors who successfully distribute their fuzzy garage rock to hip kids in square-shaped states. Call it a testament to our collective nostalgia or a yearning for simpler, sunnier times in the wake of an information overload. You could even call it a comeback. One thing you definitely can't call it, though, is on the decline.
Perhaps no musical act since the Beach Boys has done more to package and peddle California than Best Coast. Lead singer Bethany Consentino is unique, though, in that she commodifies her own persona as much as she does the Golden State. Her merchandise table includes dolls of her cat, Snacks, and she recently launched a clothing line through Urban Outfitters. Listening to her band is an invitation into her life, and the music is merely the most prominent aspect of the Best Coast experience.
The duo recently released their second love letter to the state, the one that they refer to in the album's title, The Only Place. Consentino may be riding the crest of the genre's recent wave of popularity, but she's earnest in her amorous relationship with her home, one that she developed during a stint on the East – and, in her eyes, lesser – Coast.
"When I lived in New York, I felt like music was the only thing that connected me to the California dream I was missing out on, so when we play in places where there are no palm trees and sandy beaches, people get really stoked," Consentino says. "I'm in the U.K. right now and people are really excited when we come in and bring our sunny music."
As prominent as setting is in her lyrical content, Best Coast is also known for their relatable, brazenly apolitical lyrics. Although the band has been criticized for their simplicity, Consentino is the rare female rocker who doesn't feel any pressure to promote a particular message.
"I'm just the person I am, all the time," she says. "I don't hide any of myself from anyone, and that's pretty obvious in listening to my lyrics. I just feel like young girls need people to relate to – I know I did when I was a teenager – and it's easier to relate to a person who just seems like they could be your friend, or your neighbor, or just some regular person you'd see walking down the street."
Despite her description of Best Coast as "the most relaxed band in the studio, ever," the new record is a concerted maturation for Consentino in many ways. One immediately notices that the vocals are more prominent – an evolution that has continued since her early days in bands like Pocahaunted – and the songs cleaner in sound but deeper in meaning. The changes are a result of studying the vocal styling of Stevie Nicks, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, and, undoubtedly, the mentorship of producer Jon Brion.
The vocal influences might seem strange for someone who works distinctly in the genre of pop (and, to my knowledge, Nashville has no natural beaches), but everything else is just about right. Brion, the mentor behind Best Coast's polished new sound, co-produced Kanye West's Late Registration in 2005. And as much as Consentino claims Fleetwood Mac as her primary influence, she also came of age in Southern California in the new millennium. That means she was bred on the hookiest, simplest genre of all: pop-punk.
Consentino might just be the answer to that male-dominated genre. She recently collaborated with New Found Glory and sings about "relationships, life, love and sadness" – typical fodder for that band. And although her trajectory as a musician suggests constant evolution, she really just has one persistent California dream: to write perfect pop songs.
"I don't want to write these epic songs that are deep and metaphorical," she says. "I just want to say, 'I wish he was my boyfriend,' and for someone else out there to be like, 'Yes, I totally understand that.'"
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