I still firmly believe that Best Coast recorded all their music in 1967 and have only just stopped surfing long enough to start releasing it. I remember hearing Boyfriend in late December 2010, and at the time I was driving along the NSW South Coast, it was sunny, the temperature was perfect and I had two surf boards on the roof awaiting action. It just seemed to fit. The music was about unrequited youthful lust. It wasn’t love, Bethany hadn’t progressed that far in her emotional development yet even if she professed the experience. I wished they’d stopped surfing around 2003 when I was going through my teenage awkwardness, because I think these lyrics would’ve fitted.
But this is not about their previous work. The Only Place was released in 2012, nearly 2 years after their debut, but I’m pretty sure all Best Coast did was hang out in high schools talking to spurned teenage girls about lost love. Oh, and hang at the beach. The opening track, The Only Place, immediately relaxes with it’s pop presence and hang your arm out the window vibe. It’s basically a tourism advertisement for California, its beautiful! The lifestyle appeal,
‘We wake up with the sun in our eyes
It’s no surprise that we get so much done
But we always, yes we always, we always have fun’
Before she croons ‘why would you live anywhere else’. Sounds perfect!
It only gets better. Whilst they may not be tackling life’s greatest unfathomables or even attempting to understand anything meaningful at all, Bethany’s lyrics still manage to resonate despite, or maybe because of, their simplicity. On Last Year, a slighly more menacing chord structure gives credence to laissez faire nature of the lyrics,
I just keep on spending my money
One day it will be gone and then I’ll have to write another song
What a year this day has been
Better Girl is slightly more promising in theme, but lyrically it enforces the status quo again here. ‘And it’s no fun when I’m freaking out / and it’s no fun when I’m always down’.
How They Want Me To Be could’ve been written for any number of 20 something girls experiencing the same stunted emotional growth that Bethany seems to be struggling with, ‘Even my own mother asks me a lot of questions / I tell her I don’t wanna talk / But she doesn’t stop, she’s just wondering’
In fact I’m almost certain I saw this exact post on an (ex) friend of mine’s tumblr a few months ago.
Some critics pan efforts like this, but it just makes the music more believable, to a point. You don’t need to be listening to someone throwing a thesaurus at you 24/7, its refreshing to take a less complicated approach, it makes it more impactful if it’s done well. The package has to match the present though, and Best Coast achieve this. I don’t want to draw the comparison with the Ramones, so I’ll just use someone like Beach Fossils or Smith Westerns. You’ve had a hard day at work (or university), you throw it on and don’t think.
But it’s a double edged sword, it’s liberating and limiting. It can grind on you a bit if you’re not in the mood. Let’s Go Home, for example: ‘I see myself at 8 years old/ I’m on the couch but no one’s home / my mom’s not around, my dad’s out of town/ ‘Cause I don’t want to be anywhere else but home. The year 3 rhyming dictionary get’s an epic work out. And the problem is always if, like in the previous lyrical extract, you don’t understand what the hell the singer is talking about, you can’t chalk it up to a ‘higher meaning’ that you’re just not understanding. The words just don’t make sense. Repeating ‘my life’ 8 times at the end of the song entitled my life is maddening on the second or third listen.
Which brings us nicely to the other problem. If you put it on shuffle and you’re not intimately familiar with the album as yet, you can get to the point after 4 or 5 songs when you say ‘is this shuffle working right?’. Because nothing stands out, it just all blends, which is a gift and a curse. On the one hand, put it on and relax for 34 minutes, let it blend in on itself, let it play in the background as you’re cruising surf spots. But that and after a long day of mental servitude are about the only two situations you’re going to be reaching for the Best Coast record. It’s not a third or fourth listen album, it gives all it has up on the first two dates. And no-one marries that girl. You might go through a break up in a year or so and give her a call, see if she will still put out a couple of times, but it’s no long term thing and it never will be. You’ll be at her place one night and it’ll just click all of a sudden: this person annoys me! And that’s where I’ve gotten to in my listening habits for this album. Hopefully in 6 months I’ll be back for another taste but I can’t see myself calling her before then.
Best Tracks: The Only Place, Let’s Go Home, Last Year