Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno have been churning up 1950s and ’60s surf rock and poppy girl group music into lo-fi garage rock for just over a decade. All those terms and decades just mean there’s a nostalgic, always California-tinted pop rock that has defined Best Coast’s output since the duo joined forces in 2009. And with the release of their latest, ALWAYS TOMORROW, just a week ago, it was time for me to pay homage to Best Coast with this ranked (or discography ~~explored~~) list. It simply addresses their four studio albums, but left out of the equation are the still worthwhile EPs MAKE YOU MINE (2009), SOMETHING IN THE WAY (2010), and FADE AWAY (2013), as well as the pretty strange Amazon exclusive children’s music album BEST KIDS (2018), which I just felt like I couldn’t really include in the “Canon.”
#4 — CRAZY FOR YOU (2010)
Favorite track: “Boyfriend”
It’s interesting Best Coast is usually referred to as “lo-fi,” even today, because I think that only applies to their EPs leading up to, and including, CRAZY FOR YOU, their debut album. The production style fits Cosentino’s simple, straight forward lyrics about boys and weed and the simple, straight forward surf pop/rock riffs and drums. It elevated the EPs’ premise of stripped down, slightly updated odes to the sunny California sound with better songwriting hooks. “Boyfriend” is an example, I guess, of the bizarre criticism that Cosentino writes “anti-feminist” songs, but it’s also a great example of the catchy chops Best Coast could already deploy.
#3 — THE ONLY PLACE (2012)
Favorite track: “Last Year”
Responding to the praise and criticism of their lo-fi sound, Best Coast turned to a glossier, poppier production style for their sophomore effort THE ONLY PLACE. Some kind of metaphoric sheen was not applied to Cosentino’s lyrics, however, a through line for every one of the band’s records. They’re not cheap, though, and in fact there’s kind of an intellectual honesty I always feel from Cosentino’s words and vocal delivery. It really matches Best Coast’s simply satisfying approach to pop rock, which isn’t to say there isn’t complexity to their sound; I think Bruno is a sorely underrated producer and musical mastermind. THE ONLY PLACE made that more clear.
#2 — ALWAYS TOMORROW (2020)
Favorite track: “Everything Has Changed”
By ALWAYS TOMORROW, Best Coast had already demonstrated an ability to create cohesive, highly produced and atmospheric (in reference to California) records. But their latest, coming five full years from their last fully original studio album, is a self-reflective exercise that sees Cosentino exploring her own artistic process through her lyrics (still not venturing into navel-gazing, however) while upping the pop commitment. Nearly every one of the 11 songs on ALWAYS TOMORROW stands as an attempt to create a hit single, without any of the sacrificial artistic integrity or lack of cohesion. ALWAYS TOMORROW is perhaps an understandable step back into the California Days after the moody…
#1 — CALIFORNIA NIGHTS (2015)
Favorite track: “Run Through My Head”
…CALIFORNIA NIGHTS. Best Coast’s third album was my first new one from the band, and it was a pleasant surprise. While THE ONLY PLACE was a streamlined production over CRAZY FOR YOU’s sensibilities, CALIFORNIA NIGHTS is somehow the duo’s most mature and angsty album. And they have a song called “Angsty” on THE ONLY PLACE! While ALWAYS TOMORROW may have more individual, stand out tracks (I may also need to examine what I thought was my anti-recency bias but may be in fact pro-recency bias), CALIFORNIA NIGHTS pulls ahead with just about the same number and lesser ones that still advance the record’s aural “palette,” as it were. There’s no need to call every album that has a clear commitment to a style or sound a concept album, but if Best Coast had one, it would be CALIFORNIA NIGHTS. Its darker tone doesn’t eradicate pop pleasure, however, and it stands as the deepest, almost literally, the band has gone with their production and songwriting tendencies.