If you haven’t noticed, Best Coast loves California. Check the name, the SoCal postcard of an album cover and the state-inspired tattoo on frontwoman Bethany Cosentino, who opens for Titus Andronicus with band-mates Bobb Bruno and Ali Koehler this Saturday at the Metro.
“Chicago’s a cool place, but my favorite place is California,” Cosentino said by phone from her home in Los Angeles just three weeks before embarking on tour in support of Best Coast’s debut album, Crazy For You.
A breezy collection of summer surf rock, Crazy For You is full of sunshine and angst, key ingredients for wallowing by the beach and, more importantly, top-notch pop songs in disguise. The album may sound like the soundtrack to west coast stereotypes, but moody, concise ear candy is still the heart of the band.
“I’m just a big fan of pop music, so I think if that’s what you listen to and that’s what you really enjoy, its obviously going to inspire you,” said Cosentino, who’s as much an admirer of 60s girl groups as she is a fan of Beyoncé. “I just like pop music. It’s simple, and pop songs are some of the best songs ever. It’s just what I like and that’s what I ended up doing.”
But writing her brand of no-fuss pop songs wasn’t always what she had in mind. For starters, Cosentino’s now-defunct ex-band Pocahaunted wrote the complete opposite — lengthy, drawn-out atmospheric tunes that didn’t quite get to the point the way she does now. Then there was her move to New York, where she had hoped to study creative writing at Eugene Lang College, the liberal arts college of The New School. But after spending several unhappy months in the city that never sleeps, Cosentino called it quits, packed up her bags and headed home.
“I didn’t feel like it was a place where I could do anything creative,” she said. “I just felt like never leaving my room when I lived there and I realized I was paying way too much money to go to college.”
Cosentino started writing for Best Coast shortly after her return to California, but the record provides plenty of insight into what her New York days must have been like. Even under a cheerful sheen, lines such as “I can’t get myself off the couch / I don’t want to talk to anyone else” and “Nothing makes me happy / not even TV or a bunch of weed” from “Goodbye” depict her as deeply down in the dumps. But it’s not that her California homecoming didn’t do the trick — it just suited her material.
“Just because you write songs about being bummed out and songs about being really sad doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the way you’re feeling,” said Cosentino. “I write pretty poppy, upbeat melodies. Lyrically, for this record and for the early stuff, that didn’t mean I was miserable and unhappy.”
The record’s lovesick themes are hard to miss. The number of times Cosentino rhymes “crazy” with “lazy” while singing about her object of affection could probably inspire a drinking game. But with hardly any songs longer than three minutes, Crazy For You doesn’t so much burn out as it paints a solid picture of a California girl down on her luck and crushing hard.
And here, Cosentino’s success comes from her simplicity. On melancholy opening track “Boyfriend,” she said what she feels so efficiently that it’s almost a wonder why another song hasn’t satisfied the same sweet tooth (Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” comes in at a close second). On “Summer Mood,” Cosentino’s ode to seasonal ennui, her girl group vocal stylings come in loud and clear — a stark contrast to the soft fuzz of her early singles.
The songs are still doused in plenty of reverb, but it was Best Coast’s producer, Lewis Pesacov, who helped bring the band’s sound out of the basement. He suggested early on in recording sessions that the tunes could do without the distortion, but Cosentino wasn’t keen on the idea until she heard the result.
“I realized I like the way it sounded a lot better,” she said. “It goes along with the fact that I’m a huge pop music fan. You don’t hear a lot of music with a lot of dirty sounding shit on it.”
Yet Cosentino said the lo-fi sound was never her deal. Her songs may no longer sound like home recordings, but as far as labels are concerned, Cosentino keeps it short and sweet — it’s all about the songs.
“I don’t really feel like I’m a part of any scene,” she said. “I never claimed to be a poster girl for California. I just grew up here and make music inspired by the place. I just do my own thing and make music that I want people to enjoy. That’s the only thing I want to do.”
Best Coast plays with Titus Andronicus, Male Bonding and Free Energy this Saturday at the Metro. Tickets for the 18+ show are $16.