California Nights



Dynamic beach-pop duo encounter harsh vibes, fight back with bigger sounds and sharper hooks


"What is life?" asks Bethany Cosentino on "So Unaware." For real, girl? Existential inquiry is an unexpected avenue for a songwriter who made her name with 2009's "Sun Was High (So Was I)" and other beachy anthems about battling romantic blues with garage-pop melodies and bubblegum kush. On her band's third album, it seems that coping mechanism isn't working so well anymore. Her solution? Double down on hooks, harmonies and wall-of-sound effects; own your darkness; power through.

It mostly works. "Fine Without You" and "In My Eyes" layer Cosentino's voice into a mighty punk-pop army that sounds a little like the cheerleaders from the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video formed a glee club. On "Sleep Won't Ever Come," girl-group doo-wop vocals bring insomnia to vivid life over bandmate Bobb Bruno's heat-mirage guitar. "Heaven Sent" is a spectacular cyborg-anime update of the Go-Go's. Except for the unusual title track – an extended dream-pop reverie about wanting to get lower, not higher – there's a sugar-crusted sameness to the songs that can occasionally wear thin. But as with Best Coast's beloved Ramones, you could also call it consistency. Either way, it's a pretty glorious sound. California Nights ends with "Wasted Time" and the refrain "Just wish that I had something to show for it." This album is evidence that Cosentino does.