Of all the cultural archetypes that Southern California has produced, the loosely defined genre known as "beach music" is one of its most enduring. That sunny, harmony-rich, melodically spirited permutation is the rope connecting artists as varied as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, the Go-Gos, Snoop Dogg, Mazzy Star and No Doubt. Over the last few years that sound has ridden a wave into the present through the work of Best Coast.
The duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno move further toward mastering the vibe on their third studio album, "California Nights." They do so not by celebrating carefree romps along Pacific Coast Highway, though, but by inverting the Beach Boys' fun-fun-fun narrative.
With its catchy but distorted opening riffs, album-opener "Feeling Ok" may seem like an ode to takin' it easy, except that when Cosentino sings the phrase, she doesn't sound so convinced. The title track shimmers with jangle-distorted guitar that screams sunshine, until Cosentino delivers her lines: "I stay high all the time just to get by." Still, she's not the most lyrically dexterous writer. Most of her lines follow a similar sing-song cadence, and her rhymes often feel telegraphed. But she's at expert at feel and exploring an emotion or idea while guitars swirl around it.
Even more so than on its previous records, Best Coast on "California Nights" uses distortion as a tool to infect danger into pop structures that follow the standard verse-chorus-verse rules. Classic Brill Building girders support songs like "Heaven Sent" and the Phil Spector-esque closer "Wasted Time" with earthquake-resistant permanence. In a perfect world, these would jump to the top of the singles chart. But, as Cosentino will be the first to tell you, that's not the one we live in.
3 stars out of 4