In 2009, in the aftermath of Bush and the emergence of cutesy cultural icons like Zooey Deschanel, when cat videos on YouTube were getting more views than the State of the Union, indie rock began embracing the daftness of the times. A rejection of hyper-intellectual acts like LCD Soundystem resulted in a wave of bands that turned lo-fi into a national brand: Dum Dum Girls, Wavves, Ty Segall, Beach Fossils. Cassette-hawking record labels were growing; genres like “beach goth” became a thing.
Against this backdrop came the indomitable rise of Best Coast, a duo born in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, who mixed plainspoken lyrics and '60s girl-group pastiche with Spectorian professionalism. Avoiding any of the cheeky humor or fey detachment of their contemporaries, Best Coast was heart-on-sleeve authentic — which turned out to be highly bankable. When Best Coast's debut album Crazy for You (2010) landed at No. 36 on the Billboard 200, their detractors thought it was a glitch in the system. Best Coast had broken into the mainstream despite — or because of — songs that rhymed “lazy” with “crazy.”
Two full-length albums, one mini-album, and countless 7-inches and EPs later, Best Coast has become one of the most polarizing bands in the country. Pasty Brooklynites and critics at The New Yorker think they're the indie-rock version of the Eagles, but to the sun-soaked teenage girl who gets stoned, Best Coast is The Beatles, or what MTV once described as “Taylor Swift for stoners.”
Singer-guitarist Bethany Cosentino is a gifted melodist, but her songwriting remains purposefully teen-oriented. As a result, criticism of Best Coast has lacked depth. Reviews of their albums often sound like goofy weather reports, or For Dummies guides on their purported influences.
I decided to buck this trend and consume the Best Coast canon like a proper music snob, looking for a deeper understand of a band that has, for far too long, been microscopically examined by lifestyle-journos prattling on about cats, sunshine and Cosentino's lack of literary prowess. (Being from the Valley myself, I also felt uncomfortable with the assumption that we're all empty-headed caricatures of Spicoli or Cher.)
So for one month, I listened to every single Best Coast song and tried to focus primarily on their sound, rather than their lyrics. My intent was to rank their songs from best to worst — and, I hoped, become a bigger fan in the process.
I decided to exclude any covers, remixes, or collaborations with others artists. When a song was released twice, I included what I believed to be the better version. From their upcoming album California Nights, I only included the three released singles (out of fairness to the band and their label).
The following 54 songs include everything Best Coast released between 2009-2015, from their first official single, “Sun Was High (So Was I),” right up to “Feeling OK” off California Nights.
54.“Do You Love Me Like You Used To” – The Only Place (2012)
Carrie Brownstein once referred to Best Coast as a “grunge band.” This track is more like some schmaltzy overreach — an overproduced quasi-standard with a recycled chord progression that's inescapably formulaic. The Eagles playing fake cowboy rock sounded more authentic. This is Best Coast's fuddy-duddy nod to squares like Lawrence Welk, or a house-band on a cruise boat.
53.“Mean Girls” – The Only Place (bonus track) (2012)
While octave range isn't usually that important in assessing Best Coast, here, when Cosentino stretches her vocals towards her upper register, it sounds like she's approaching Taylor Swift butchering “Rhiannon” territory. “Mean Girls” also includes the most unnervingly shitty chorus Cosentino has ever written.
52. “California Nights” – California Nights (2015)
With an accompanying video that borders on self-parody — cacti, palm trees, a cat, and all the trappings of a PacSun dressing room — Best Coast turned their major label debut into some bargain basement attempt at being grandiose. A lot of people like this song, but only Katy Perry and Lisa Marie-era Michael Jackson ever managed to spoil a good tune with such thoughtless images to accompany it.
51. “When You Wake Up” – Summer is Forever [Wavves, Best Coast and No Joy] (2011)
It starts out like a pleasantly strummy Weezer track, but “When You Wake Up” quickly turns lyrical repetition into an instrument of death: “It's always 11:30/When you wake up,” never needs to be spoken again. This is also a schlock song about a boyfriend sleeping in — not exactly Gershwin, or even Billy Joel.
50. “Last Year” – The Only Place (2012)
After two years of being cudgeled by critics for her trite lyricism, while feeling drained by stardom, Cosentino's neuroses got the best of her. She wrote “Last Year” as a self-conscious journal-entry consisting of heart-on-sleeve vulnerability, and bratty “da-da-da's” that sound too off-Broadway for Best Coast.
49. “Gloomy” – Where the Boys Are (2009)
A prototype of a Best Coast song, this track has all the resonance of water-damaged earbuds. No drums, not even a programmable floppy disk version of a beat. You barely hear a melody buried beneath a poorly recorded Cosentino — who sounds like she's singing into a seashell.
48. “Angsty” – Where the Boys Are (2009) / reissued on The Only Place (bonus track) (2012)
Of the two versions of “Angsty,” the 2009 version does a better job of bottling the nail-biting obsessiveness of Cosentino when she says, “It's overwhelming how much I hate everything.” It turns out a boy is her only salvation, which isn't as much post-feminism, as it is a paean to '60s girl groups like The Crystals and The Ronettes.
47. “Why I Cry” – The Only Place (2012)
Cosentino harmonizing under her own lead vocals is part of Best Coast's sound. But the instrumentation on this track is too dry, and the sparse guitar and cold snare leaves Cosentino rudderless — she sounds like a toothless Hannah Montana backing up Miley Cyrus.
46. “Better Girl” – The Only Place (2012)
Bobb Bruno's countrified guitar riff supports Cosentino's funless diatribe, who puts an accent on “no fun,” to emphasize her Valley Girl chutzpah — which she wears on her sleeve, so to speak. Cosentino says “no fun” 12 times in three minutes to make a point that she's sensitive to criticism. “Better Girl” is the opposite of Taylor Swift's “Shake It Off.” A decent guitar track.
45. “My Life” – The Only Place (2012)
“My Life” is a yet another Jenny Lewis-tinged track off the The Only Place, that unfortunately comes off like a polished impersonation of Bethany Sharayah doing alt-country (that's Bethany's former MySpace alias). The endearing quality of Cosentino's voice is downright sterilized here; too much treble for my liking.
44. “Space Baby” – Where the Boys Are (2009)
The closest thing to psychedelic punk in the Best Coast canon, “Space Baby” is a song that lacks a clear narrative, and frankly, it doesn't even sound like Best Coast. The vocal melody in the verse “Little, little space baby,” with the syncopated “baby,” sounds like Stevie Nicks fronting a proto-punk band — no tinkling or cuteness, just stoned lyricism and fuzz.
43. “No One Like You” – The Only Place (2012)
Fifties pop balladeering that showcases a strong vocal performance. The melody in the verse sounds inspired by the steel guitar on Santo & Johnny's “Sleep Walk.” If this was 1959, “No One Like You” would be a prom anthem.
42. “Far Away” – Far Away / Everyone's Gone 7-inch (2010)
The early Beatles influence is evident in this uptempo jam about a Valley Girl stuck in New York. “Far Away” includes a typical Best Coast attempt to make their drums sound like Ringo Starr's from “All My Loving.” There's also a Nickelback song with same title. Guilt by association.
41. “Everyone's Gone” – Far Away / Everyone's Gone 7-inch (2010)
This foggy sludge of surf-rock is Cosentino's breakup song, on acid. “Everyone's Gone” punches you in the gut with nostalgia, bitterness, and hazy psychedelia that's purer than “California Nights.”
40. “Honey” – Crazy for You (2010)
A more somber, Hole-ish recording that sounds a bit too similar to another Best Coast song, “Dreaming My Life Away,” which makes them both less interesting.
39. “Boy” – Where the Boys Are (2009)
A 2:55 experiment with a guitar resembling a fading siren, and a nail-gun for a beat. The outro actually sounds like the finale of Pearl Jam's “Jeremy,” once you get through all the murk.
38. “Dreaming My Life Away” – Single (2009) / The Only Place (2012)
“Dreaming My Life Away” was originally released in 2009 as a ghostly lullaby. In the original version, the bass drum and tambourine have a Wall of Sound-tinge that sounds haunting under the spooky melody. This is Best Coast scoring an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
37. “When the Sun Don't Shine” – Crazy for You (2010)
Opens with Cosentino strumming a clean-sounding riff, singing “I just want to tell you/That I've always loved you.” The chorus includes “oohs,” and the bridge offers little, if any, dynamic variation. A fun song about sunshine and falling in love.
36. “Moody” – Where the Boys Are (2009)
A skeletal attempt by Best Coast to write droney stoner-punk. You can hear the Nirvana influence, too, especially in the sparse guitar that drives the grunge-y melody.
35. “The End” – Crazy for You (2010)
There's a breezy quality to this track that's classic pop, but like The Police's “Every Breath You Take,” it hides the psycho-neurotic subtext of the words: “You say that we're just friends/But I want this till' the end.” Separation anxiety is something Cosentino struggles with in countless Best Coast songs.
34. “Feeling of Love” – Make You Mine (2009)
A fuzzed-out love song for stoners. It's also a reminder of how hard it is to sleep when you're thinking about the opposite sex.
33. “Make You Mine” – Make You Mine (2009)
Driven by a grainy, Spectorian beat and catchy verse, with all the “ooh babies” you can handle in a ditty about turning friendship into romance, “Make You Mine” is the unofficial sequel to “Feeling of Love.”
32. “This is Real” – When I'm With You 7″ (2009)
About 20 seconds in, you hear a variation on Hal Blaine's “bom, bom-bom, bap” drum intro from The Ronettes “Be My Baby,” which is sped-up on countless Best Coast songs. But Cosentino's vocal melody is the real centerpiece here, delivered with a sassy Lesley Gore “If That's The Way You Want It” style that interweaves nicely with all the classic tom-tom fills and girl-group production.
31. “Wish He Was You” – Something in the Way (2010)
The interplay between the guitars has a surf quality that saves this song from falling off a cliff. A solid tune to open a gig, one that captures their fuzzy Spector-meets-Beach Boys sound with immediacy, but never really leaves the shore for a proper journey.
30. “Something in the Way” – Something in the Way 7″ (2010)
For the lo-fi purist, this sticks to the Best Coast blueprint of catchy girl-group vocals, bouncy drums, and enough fuzz to match the first Wavves record. For everyone else, its just another catchy Best Coast song about being boy-crazy.
29. “The Road” – Something in the Way 7″ (2010)
With a scuzzy Muse-esque riff on the intro,”The Road” is a somber breakup ballad from a band that no longer sounds this depressing, ever.
28. “Fade Away” – Fade Away (2013)
On each of Fade Away's seven tracks, Cosentino's vocals seem to hang lower in her register, a la Miley Cyrus or Gwen Stefani. The result, especially on the title track, is a more textured expression of Best Coast than anything on The Only Place. This is the band Best Coast wants to be.
27. “I Want To” – Crazy for You (2010)
What starts off like a sing-along by the The Crystals, supported by a purposefully lifeless backbeat, turns into a quasi-Green Day burst of energy that crescendos into Best Coast's punkest 46 seconds on record.
26. “Our Deal” – Crazy for You (2010)
Bethany's country soul shows on the verse, when she sings “When you leeaave me/The bed is empty.” A solid midtempo breakup song by a band that probably shouldn't write another midtempo breakup song for a while.
25. “Baby I'm Crying” – Fade Away (2013)
Best Coast's faded waltz begins with a Mazzy Star-influenced riff. Cosentino then proceeds to wail on the outro, “Baby I'm crying,” like someone raised on Mariah Carey's Music Box. When she's not trying to step outside her comfort zone, Cosentino can definitely deliver a strong vocal performance — even if it's a bit schmaltzy.
24. “Gone Again” – Adult Swim single (2011)
Cosentino's pert vocal delivery on this track is the closest she'll get to pulling off Wanda Jackson-ish sass. Since Best Coast can always benefit from a bit of attitude in their work, this track has appeal beyond its ridiculously catchy verse and nonsensical music video.
23. “How They Want Me to Be” – The Only Place (2012)
Addressing jealousy and the burdens of success, in what could have been Best Coast's most important song, Cosentino just delves into another exploration of her boyfriend. Still, somehow, the most interesting song off Best Coast's most uninteresting album.
22. “Goodbye” – Crazy for You (2010)
Cosentino's frank earnestness, along with the David Rager retro-postcard album art, turned Crazy for You into a sensation in the summer of 2010. This song contains the most infamous lyric off that record: “I wish my cat could talk.” And yes, Cosentino is serious.
21. “Sunny Adventure” – Best Coast / Jeff the Brotherhood split (2010)
Blending skate punk with girl-group harmonies, “Sunny Adventure” bounces around in your cranium like a Go-Go's hit. The title tells you all your need to know: there's sun and there's an adventure, what else do you need?
20. “Heaven Sent” – California Nights (2015)
Best Coast's second single off California Nights feels like a mainstream Punk-O-Rama track engulfed in power chords and Bruno's shredding guitar solo. “Heaven Sent” could be Best Coast's loudest and most arena-friendly song.
19. “Happy” – Crazy for You (2010)
The catchy repetition of “happy,” pronounced like Cosentino is panting, happens exactly 49 times in this ditty about being happy. It's artfully stupid repetition, rivaling equally goofy songs by Blink-182 and The Queers.
18. “Over the Ocean” – Make You Mine (2009)
A fuzzy nostalgia-trip inspired by a cloudy day in New York, where Consentino was daydreaming of a California beach that may or may not have existed. It's a precursor to Best Coast's standard, “The Only Place.”
17. “Let's Go Home” – The Only Place (2012)
Another Best Coast paean to California (the unofficial part deux of “The Only Place”), but mostly it's just about Cosentino's hermetical obsession with being home, literally. It also opens with tribal drums you never hear in any Best Coast song. The soulfully countrified outro is Jenny Lewis meets Lissie — for teenyboppers. My second favorite song off The Only Place.
16. “Fear of My Identity” – Fade Away (2013)
Cosentino's father Ricky drums on this track, which is a solid addition to a song where his daughter feels overwhelmed by personal demons. Perhaps she's speaking to her father when she says, “You taught me that my heart would grow old.” A touching lyric, if you take that perspective.
15. “Up All Night” – Single (2010) / The Only Place (2012)
The original version sounds like a charred pop ballad, a warped recording from some lost Brill Building session. The retro-sounding melody, the heart of the distorted production, reappears in altered form on “Bratty B.”
14. “Summer Mood” – Crazy for You (2010)
The “oooh-ahhh” harmonies behind Cosentino's verse appeal to anyone that's ever had a childhood, or a crush. This is every Best Coast song ever, in a nutshell.
13. “I Don't Know How” – Fade Away (2013)
Starts off country, with Cosentino's finest vocal performance, and evolves into a pop-punk affair that has the best bridge she's has ever written. Sure, Cosentino says “I don't know how” 28 times in three minutes, which is crazy, but any track that sounds like Shania Twain fronting Blink-182 is too fun to dislike.
12. “I Wanna Know” – Fade Away (2013)
Four simple chords are followed by Bruno roaming the architecture of his fretboard, then a short verse with something we've all done: “Drawing names deep in the sand/Holding on to each other's hands.” A punchy pop song, with a memorable Go-Go's-esque bridge.
11. “Who Have I Become?” – Fade Away (2013)
An ode to '90s alternative, especially on the opening guitar riff by Bruno. “Who Have I Become?” also includes vocal effects on the hook that make Cosentino's sound like Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls. Bruno's riffage channels '90s hits by the Gin Blossoms, Third Eye Blind, and the theme from Friends.
10. “Feeling OK” – California Nights (2015)
Examining her dependency issues and mood swings, Cosentino (in a rare move) sounds like she's psychoanalyzing herself, rather than addressing someone directly. “Feeling OK” also includes an epic-sounding chorus that's emo meets '90s KROQ, walloping you over the head with what is, for Best Coast, a new sound.
9. “This Lonely Morning” – Fade Away (2013)
Cosentino wrote this hook-filled gem in just five minutes — which inspired an entire mini-album. As a result, you can feel the immediacy and sense of urgency in her words, which snap a quick portrait of an artist who's candid and purposefully plainspoken.
8. “Sun Was High (So Was I)” – Single (2009) / Summer Bummer Get Laid Get Wasted mixtape (2009)
With a 8-bit guitar riff that has all the schmaltzy romance of a Nintendo love story, “Sun Was High (So Was I)” was the first time a lot of us discovered Best Coast. Dripping with reverb and fuzz, this song defined a sound that was distant, lonely, and deeply personal.
7. “Boyfriend” – Crazy for You (2010)
The ne plus ultra of twee-boyfriend songs, “Boyfriend” captures the essence of yearning in a way that's radio-friendly and appealing to 16-year-old girls who first heard this and went, “Oh my God, this is my life.” Five years later, it doesn't have the same appeal, but in the summer of 2010, it created a boy-crazy national brand. And to this day, “Boyfriend” is Best Coast's most popular song.
6. “Bratty B” – Crazy for You (2010)
The intro sounds like the guitar riff from Nirvana's “About a Girl,” except this song is very clearly about a boy, or just being a brat, which Cosentino vocalizes in the way she pronounces “phone” and “talk” with that grossed-out Valley Girl accent that makes this song so damn impossible to skip.
5. “The Only Place” – The Only Place (2012)
“Why would you live anywhere else?” says Cosentino, is what is the modern blank generation's equivalent to The Mamas & the Papas' “California Dreaming,” in 140 characters or less — the perfect title track to an album that used the state song of California for album art. “The Only Place” is now an indie standard that defies any intellectual debates over New York versus L.A. with such profound verses as: “We've got the ocean/Got the babes/Got the sun/We've got the waves.”
4. “Crazy for You” – Crazy for You (2010)
When rhyming “crazy” with “lazy,” you better write a sticky-icky hook to keep the bubblegum fresh. Here, Best Coast does that with a simple melody on a strummy verse, into a chorus of “oooh-oooh-ooohs” that rise and fall like head-bopping Bangles, Go-Go's, The Angels, The Crystals, and the ever-evolving process of scoring a dub sack in L.A.
3. “So Gone” – Sun Was High (So Was I) single (2009)
Creating a personal connection with distance, hazy and detached from the 21st century, is something only a handful of bands ever did without sounding robotic (The Strokes did it, that's about it). Best Coast pulls it off on this pre-Crazy for You gem. There's also a bitter quality to Cosentino's vocal that are absent from most Best Coast songs — even the “ooohs” sound heavy, like their slowly melting off her lips.
2. “When I'm With You” – Single (2009), Crazy for You (bonus track) (2010)
This is the song you play for someone who's never heard of Best Coast. In just the first 45 songs, you hear the centerpiece ballad in the Best Coast canon, followed by driving verse-chorus that bridges the gap between Make You Mine and Crazy for You. It also includes Bruno's first guitar solo. “I hate sleeping aloooooone,” closes the song, which leaves you wanting more, like In-N-Out fries with a side of spread. There's even a faux-Ronald McDonald music video that's become a classic.
1. “Each and Every Day” – Crazy for You (2010)
Best Coast's quasi-bubblegum symphony is startlingly immediate. The song begins with a dense explosion guitars and drums, whereas most Best Coast songs open with a few sparse chords by Cosentino, followed by Bruno's surf guitar. Here, a barrage of “oooh-ooohs” and “la-la-las,” with the repeated “you will never fall in love,” swings with carefree abandonment. At the 1:50 mark, the storm subsides with a ringing organ note that shines down over the steady sound of a tambourine — a nod to the Beach Boys' “Good Vibrations.” A dreamy boyfriend-lullaby ensues for the next minute, as Cosentino syncopates her vocals on “thank the stars above,” ending on on soulful prayer that's as much Rockwellian, as it is Brian Wilson, as it is Walt Disney.
So what have we learned?
• Best Coast panders to their base like a West Coast gangsta rapper. There's no variation to the theme: You're either a Californian or you want to be one, and if you think being boy-crazy is vapid, you can go listen to metal.
• Cosentino has the ability to write catchy verse-chorus-verse pop songs, but the repetition of her work requires a great bridge, which she can neglect. When she does deliver a strong bridge, in a song like “Each and Every Day,” or even “I Don't Know How,” where it's the best part of the song — Best Coast's replay value is through the roof.
• Bobb Bruno's hammer-on surf guitar solos occasionally sound recycled. This, along with the fact that Best Coast is a duo that lacks a consistent rhythm section (with the exception of former drummer Ali Koehler), just makes it harder to defend their sound as having much versatility.
• Despite this, and to their credit, Best Coast is constantly evolving. In 2009, they began with fuzzy psychedelia that blended '60s girl group harmonies with grunge. They evolved into sugary garage-pop on Crazy for You; tried to sound like Fleetwood Mac on The Only Place; and eventually became an arena-rock band for quirky people.
• The Achilles' heel of Best Coast is their second album, The Only Place. With the exception of the title track and “Let's Go Home,” delete every song from this slickened overreach and Best Coast loses nothing. The Only Place is their Green Album. It's largely responsible for the prevailing presumption that Best Coast writes nothing but schlock for teenage hipsters.
• 2010 was the last time Best Coast was involved in producing “lo-fi” music. So any drawn-out discussion of fidelity, at this point, would be like asking John Lennon in 1975 why he wasn't singing “Love Me Do” and dressing mod.