For a band that’s ditched the lo-fi fog and quickly grown in prominence with little sign of slowing, Fade Away seems like an odd title for Best Coast’s new mini-album. Their charmingly uncomplicated debut album Crazy For You sounded accidental, as if Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno had left the tape rolling as they let loose a set of immaculately crafted, easy pop tunes full of simple, open-hearted lyrics. They followed that up with The Only Place, which, while it looked outside of their pot smoke-shrouded bedroom, felt anything but easy with glossy production spotlighting songs that were charming due to their hazy nature to begin with. Fade Away doesn’t step back into the fog of their origins, nor does it drastically change the formula of The Only Place. Instead, it attempts to lyrically expose darker corners of Cosentino’s pop songwriting.
The biggest revelation from Best Coast’s sophomore LP was Cosentino’s voice, which stood strong when left to fend for itself without the pea soup production surrounding it. Her voice didn’t change much, per se, but it hadn’t been a large presence on the early singles and debut album. Her pre-Best Coast work with drone duo Pocahaunted was far more acrobatic, but that outfit also traded in dense lo-fi. That bold clarity continues on Fade Away, as Cosentino’s references to Stevie Nicks and Patsy Cline prove to be a bigger part of the picture than the girl group harmonies and surfy pop of Crazy For You. “I wanted people to be like, ‘Damn, this girl can sing!’” Cosentino told Rolling Stone back when she was promoting The Only Place. That ambition continues to overtake the formula, as if the energy has made a drastic swing from songwriting over to vocal performance.
A quick look at the titles, though, will similarly demonstrate that Best Coast aren’t reaching back to their lazy days with the sun pouring in through the windows, Snacks and snacks on the table, and relationships (at least occasionally) full of fun. The titles here use words like “lonely,” “fear,” and “crying”; Cosentino’s questioning her own identity. But these emotional states don’t often work too well when paired with spunky up-tempo pop. “The haze is on my mind, I’m running from myself this time/ and I don’t feel fine, and I can’t walk in a straight line,” Cosentino belts out on opener “This Lonely Morning”, a track that reflects little of its malcontent in its buoyant instrumentation. Later on “I Wanna Know”, unclear phrases about an ended relationship tumble about until a build to a chorus tries to put a final stamp on things. But seconds after singing those “Baby goodbyes,” she’s offering that “you could have me every day.” The mixed message isn’t anything new in the world of love, but the hackneyed way that potentially personal message is expressed and the surrounding bland guitar rock progression can’t elevate it to much interest.
That challenge is something that Fade Away fails to rise to, and will continue to be the challenge that Best Coast will need to face on their subsequent LP. The emphasis on the performance and the writing could match up better, as Cosentino’s emotions are best felt when they match their background. The country-lite sway of “Baby I’m Crying” is the closest the duo come to rising to that challenge: lush harmonies back Cosentino’s full-hearted exhortations and the downtempo percussion and drooping chords match her beautifully. If you’re going to make a song about heartbreak, draping it in somber tones and leaning on country’s hard-luck ethos makes sense. But most of Fade Away drifts in and out of emotions and genres, failing to produce something truly resonant.
Essential Tracks: “Baby I’m Crying”