October 23, 2013

Test Spins: Best Coast, Fade Away

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By MIKE SOSNICK

Back in 2010, Best Coast released a quirky, fun stoner punk album shrouded in lo-fi haze. Despite the buzz sparked by their debut, they proceeded to alienate fans and critics alike with their follow-up LP, The Only Place. Stripped of the cloud of poorly recorded distortion, the band’s true banality reared its ugly head. Led by 26-year-old Bethany Costentino, Best Coast recently released their third record, a so-called “mini-album” entitled Fade Away. Fade Away continues Best Coast’s trend of polished studio recording, leaving them without a wall of fuzz and crackle to hide behind. Instead, they shine through way too brightly, removing any edge from the band once considered punk.

Blandness is the name of the game with Fade Away. While on the debut, Costentino sang about happy-go-lucky relationships and smiles, she decided to put on her big girl pants for her most recent release. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that she could pass a community college creative writing course. If there exists a fill-in-the-blanks lyric generator for female rock musicians, she found it. Her themes of passing time and introspection are lost to middle school rhyme schemes with cliché tropes, such as the title track’s “People they change / And love it fades.”

Musically, the album isn’t any less vapid. Punk progressions are generally based on 60s bubblegum pop, and Best Coast’s latest effort seems more conducive to finger snapping than head banging. From theopener, “This Lonely Morning,” it’s clear that there’s little to make the traditional punk structure edgy or even interesting with the track’s clean, bright guitars and even brighter vocals. “Who Have I Become?” seems like the result of a collaboration between Liz Phair and Taylor Swift. The track has similar progressions and vocal delivery to the former but it’s squeaky clean and radio friendly, rendering it boring and pointless. Very little happens of note in the other songs either: The album’s title track seems as if the band sat down and said, “Let’s lethargically pound the drums before the chorus, then turn up some uninspired overdrive and hope for the best.” The product is a repetitive record that is 26 minutes of annoyingly shiny, simple power chord progressions and idiot-proof percussion.

Best Coast used to feature guitars consciously light lyrics and guitars wrapped in sun-drenched distortion. Fade Away is still bright with its benign guitar rock progressions, but now they’re now joined by laughably melancholy lyrics and disorientingly clean recording quality. The result is an awful juxtaposition that stretches staid musical ideas into tediously long tracks. Best Coast was on a commercial rise before this mini-album was released, but now, I think (or hope, more accurately) that they’ll do just as the title says: fade away.

Mike Sosnick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at msosnick@cornellsun.com.