Not too long ago I read a pretty insipid blog post where the author felt compelled to talk about the way Best Coast made her “feel.” She went on and on about how Bethany Cosentino and company’s music makes her feel the way she did when she was a teenager, a time fraught with misunderstandings about the world that, not too much later, she’s put behind her. That thinking encompasses a whole vague set of emotions about adolescence that mature adults generally relegate to a shadowy nether realm that’s largely dismissed as silly and frivilous and illegitimate.
A lot of the noncritical fan response to Best Coast’s music tends to stay somewhere inside those same lines, with people recalling the childish emotions that you’re supposed to leave behind as you get older. What’s most interesting to me, then, is to think about how the trio managed to inspire such similar responses in so many people. The biggest reason is also the most obvious: Best Coast’s debut LP, Crazy For You, is limited to songs about boys, weed, boys, the beach and boys.
That explanation though, is complicated by the fact that most pop songs are about boys or girls, and if you turn on the radio you will not have to search for very long to find a song whose themes are basically identical to Best Coast’s: “I want you,” “I love you,” “I wish you were mine,” “this relationship is complicated,” “summer is cool.” Of course, Best Coast treats these things with a certain sadness, but we would do well not to confuse sadness with seriousness or emotional complexity. Being bummed out is after all, a pretty basic feeling.
To be fair though, Cosentino is a much better songwriter than the vast majority of what gets play on mainstream radio. Crazy For You opener “Boyfriend” is a criminally simple, undeniable cut that’s embarrasingly relatable in a way that is seemingly beyond the abilities of someone like Stargate or Dr. Luke. “Our Deal” sounds like a great unrecorded Lesley Gore track, and “When the Sun Don’t Shine” is a wistful bath in surf-rock melodies. The album is filled with well-conceived, well-executed pop pieces, but it would be silly to pretend that the musical landscape, including Top 40, isn’t occupied by songwriters who make reasonably innocent songs about boys at least as well as Best Coast does.
Maybe it’s not that Best Coast particularly reminds people of the emotional tumult of adolescence, but that the group’s music somehow makes it safe to occupy those same spaces in memory, or to even feel that serious and dramatic again. People put that time in their lives away because they think that it’s unproductive or self-defeating to get so wrapped-up in “feeling,” but it might be possible to approach those attitudes with a no-fi queen at your side who loves cats and weed and boys.
If that’s the case, then it probably has something to do with Best Coast’s much-discussed stoner beach-punk aesthetic that allows people to think that accessing the memories and self-indulgence of your formative years is risk-free and unembarrassing if you’re doing it through the band’s music. Then the idea is that Bethany Cosentino is playing along with us: We’re making this trip to Neverland safe for each other, with her as the guide and us as the tourists. So it’s cool to feel like “everything falls apart” when your boyfriend leaves and to wish your cat could talk, right? Sure, as long as it’s from a reasonable distance.