opinion byBRENDAN FRANK
Occasionally a musician has such a well-defined personality that you get an idea of who they are as a person before you even listen to their music. Such was the case with Best Coast’s Bethany Consentino, a quirky, boy-obsessed, cat-loving, stoned self-starter from California whose bedroom demos were essentially left untreated on her band’s 2010 debut. Indeed, her authenticity almost seemed to be enough to carry Crazy For You on its own. These chronicles were wholehearted revelations, stories you could share with the girl next door over a spliff, and they held up on the strength of the character behind them alone. Consentino was a charmer, which gave legs to some of the repetitiveness found in her songwriting. But apart from the initial burst that got her noticed in the first place, Consentino has yet to show that she is capable of branching out as a composer.
The latest from Best Coast is Fade Away, and it circles around the same subjects as before with a business-as-usual attitude that shouldn’t feel this bland 2 ½ albums in (it has been marketed as a mini-album – though it falls just 4 minutes shy of Crazy For You). Inspired by the likes of Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine, it’s also another attempt by Consentino and her bandmate Bobb Bruno to distance themselves from the shabby, Oceanside sounds they made their name on. It’s of a similar ilk to their debut in spirit, and, regrettably, their sophomore effort The Only Place in execution.
Fade Away is brighter and fiercer than anything Best Coast has done before, but all of the problems that dogged The Only Place are also present here. Namely, the lyrics are still awful. Consentino lobs herself softball rhyme schemes that you can sense coming from a mile away, and the threadbare heartbreak that rung true on Crazy For You now seems like bellyaching. These seven songs dispense “wisdom” (“You’re never wrong, you’re never right/It’s never told in black and white”), cornball humor (“Life is short but so am I”), lovesick platitudes (“May be one day you’ll be the one/Maybe I will see the setting sun”), and misguided attempts at poetry (“The hate is getting darker/The fear is getting larger”). None of it is particularly persuasive or affecting.
This sense of futility defines Fade Away as much as it currently defines Consentino. There’s nothing to grab onto, no natural entry point, nothing that comes close to pathos. It all comes across as neutral and bleated out. The appealingly raucous “Who Have I Become” cannot weather multiple listens. It stifles self-examination, opting instead for meek rhetoric: “The day is done and he has won/Again I'm running from the one I love/But I don't know if it’s true/Do I love you?”
Even the obvious high points are compromised for some reason or another. Two-tempo closer “I Don’t Know How” allows some room for Consentino’s voice to roam and is all the better for it, but is undone by an undercooked bridge. And even though Fade Away clocks in under half an hour, it’s too long. 2-minute ditties are stretched out to an unnecessary four-and-a-half, with refrains that expose their own vapidity through repetition. While “This Lonely Morning” has enough gumption to grab your attention from the outset, it ends up spinning its tires with a three-word chorus that also appropriates The New Pornographers’ “All For Swinging You Around” a little too closely for comfort.
Best Coast’s progress continues to be encumbered by two-dimensional songwriting, rendering Fade Away a superficial listen. Granted, there’s a pretty low ceiling associated with the (seemingly) inseparable trio of boys and drug use and laziness. But where Fade Away really falls flat is how it lethargically, circularly insists upon the hopelessness of Consentino’s problems without elaboration. Instead, it fumbles for anecdotes that undersell what should be highly relatable emotions. [C-]