Where last year’s ‘The Only Place’ was lazy and lacked substance, ‘Fade Away’ seems tighter and more melody-conscious. To be sure, no step forwards have been taken here; this is the same band that abandoned the timeliness and honesty of their debut in favor of a more streamlined, generic sound on ‘The Only Place,’ filled to the brim with echoey surf guitars and vaguely retro-ish vocals in the vein of 60s girl groups with lyrics about breakups and self-pity, lacking the clarity of Dum Dum Girls or the edgy experimentation of Wavves. In context, though, this mini-album is a significant statement for Bethany Consentino’s pet project. After leaving Mexican Summer, she started her own label, Jewel City, and this is the first statement of a new era for her as an artist, one that seems like a natural extension of the image she projects in her music. Consentino now has full control of her destiny, but while she makes some gains in the way of focus, in a lot of ways promises of success remain unfulfilled and stagnation is an ever-growing problem; this metaphor is aptly applied to her entrepreneurial life, her career as an artist, and her personal life as a young adult who, like anyone her age, possesses a constantly diminishing supply of confidence in her direction. And while her cartoonish embodiment of “Fuck! I’m In My 20s” can be a bit absurd at times, and as time goes on the directionless introspection becomes less and less appealing, Best Coast still know how to pull off the charming loser angle well enough to churn out one of the more listenable indie pop records of the year.
The album starts by putting its best foot forward with “This Lonely Morning,” which as a single unit is the track most evocative of ‘Crazy For You.’ Which is just as well, because it sounds like a more energetic version of the title track from that album, so it would seem the rest of the album bodes well. But, things get a bit more muddled as we lead into the rest of the album. Lyrics about being a twenty-something slacker abound. “I Wanna Know” doesn’t particularly offend, with gems like “I miss the way you held me tight/I even miss our stupid fights,” it sounds like it was taken straight from The Shirelles’ songbook rather than a Tumblr dashboard. But here as everywhere else, the chorus consists entirely of the repetition of about four words to such an insufferable extents all I can really remember about a particular song is “BABY GOODBYYYYYYYYYYE” being drilled into my brain.
For the chasmic middle section of the album, it’s all a case study in immature existential angst. Self-doubt haunts such lines as “my dreams are just dramatic versions of my real life,” which lead into the sad realizations of “the fear of my identity/standing right in front of me/I wanted to be you/but I know it’s me,” but what exactly any of this is supposed to mean is not made clear, and as a result it fails to resonate with any depth. The problem of shallowness masquerading as depth is made worse by the generally bland music. The surf riffs, the incessant reverb, the fuzzy power chords – it’s devoid of the personality it once had circa-2009 when garage rock revival-revivalism was a thing, and the lack of variety is a serious blow to how enjoyable one can find this album as a whole. The closing track, “I Don’t Know How,” though, almost saves the entire project. Where “This Lonely Morning” would have been sufficient to demonstrate that Best Coast still had promise and the potential to make a really interesting full-length follow up, “I Don’t Know How” is easily the most powerful, adept piece of work Consentino has ever put out. And while the tired tropes of tired repetition of the chorus and instrumentation lacking variety – it’s easy to imagine this song would have worked so much better on an acoustic guitar – it also makes the best use of these conventions, and if they learn to show some restraint, the formula may not be quite dead yet.
Sure, this may be just a demonstration of Consentino’s prowess as the owner of a record label, a toss-off to tide fans over until their next real album, but there are a few moments that make any particular track here better than any particular track on ‘The Only Place,’ and it certainly shows the heights the group may possibly be striving for, if only they could shake off certain clichés.
Recommended Tracks: This Lonely Morning, I Wanna Know, I Don’t Know How