California Nights is, from beginning to end, ecstatic. No other word better describes the release: it’s a crashing collection of pop choruses that reverberates with life and an infectious, optimistic insistence. It’s the most brilliant record Best Coast have yet turned in, precisely because it is the record on which they really go hell for leather. This is an album that does nothing by halves, and is all the better for it: it’s a delicious, defiant, delirious record that will carve a space for itself in your life, and settle in for the long run.
Even the songs that thematically tap into reservoirs of darkness and despair – most obviously Jealousy and Fine Without You – end up being exhilarating anthems rather than dreary, self-indulgent ballads. When lead singer Bethany Cosentino sings a line like “what is life? What is love?…Do I even care?” you don’t get the sense that she is bowing down in resignation. You get the sense that she is standing tall, defiantly questioning the forces that are trying – and failing – to batter her down.
Even when she sings “the weight of the world crashes down on my shoulders”, the swirling guitars that nestle around her voice take the line to another level: Cosentino is realistic about the pressures of her life, but she’s a warrior, not a wuss. One of the many things California Nights establishes is Cosentino’s unparalleled reserves of strength: she’s a Joan Jett, a Joan of Arc.
The record is a collection of riches: each track impresses, to the extent that listing the record’s highlights would be a pointless exercise. It’s all good, from the bittersweet Fading Fast to the fuzzy In My Eyes. Bobb Bruno’s guitar work has never been as great as it is here: it never feels superfluous, or tacked on simply to impress. It’s a level of technical mastery alternative rock hasn’t seen in some time, and Bruno’s tonal control and inventiveness breathes exuberance and skill into every track.
2015 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years alt rock has seen in decades. Between Surfer Blood’s 1000 Palms, Built To Spill’s Untethered Moon, Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit And Think…and this, Best Coast’s magnum opus, one gets the sense that there’s no way things could possibly get any better. With a touching humanistic bent, Cosentino and Bruno have turned in a simultaneously tender and epic release; an album that improves on every listen. To pluck a John Darnielle quote from its original context, give it a few decades and you’ll be bragging to your children that you were alive when music this good was being released.