In the past three years, Bethany Cosentino, the beloved singer/songwriter/guitarist behind Best Coast, has become a style icon for a generation of millennials and slackers still obsessed with ’90s nostalgia. She became popular by writing direct and catchy surf-rock about boys and heartbreak that had a vintage feel with roots in ’60s girl-group pop. In the years since her breakout, she has steadily moved toward more slickly produced pop-rock that is still catchy, but is less interesting. On her newest mini-album, Fade Away, released on her own label, Jewel City, Cosentino’s music reaches the culmination of those two things with her most sharply produced, yet forgettable, release to date.
The fact that Fade Away is labeled as a mini-album is slightly misleading, yet also telling of where Best Coast is as a musical project these days. Featuring only seven songs and clocking in at almost 26 minutes, Fade Away is a mini-album, or EP, by definition. But Crazy for You, the band’s warmly received debut album, only lasted about 29 minutes including a bonus track. The short run time and basic production of that first album is part of what made it so great.
Now that Best Coast splits the difference between No Doubt and Fleetwood Mac, the band’s music is a little more predictable and boring. This new direction doesn’t come as a surprise, as Best Coast contributed a faithful cover of “Rhiannon” to a Fleetwood Mac tribute album last year.
On one hand, more complex songs like “Fear of My Identity” and “Who Have I Become” show Cosentino’s growth as a songwriter, as there are only so many times you can rhyme “crazy” and “lazy” as she did on her first album. On the other hand, mid-tempo ballads like the title track show how much of her individuality Cosentino traded in on this new release. The songs are at their best when they are more upbeat and direct as on “This Lonely Morning” or when Cosentino writes solid hooks in tracks like “I Don’t Know How.” The latter song finds Best Coast embracing the more country-fused aspect of Fleetwood Mac for two minutes before she kicks up the tempo and sings catchy hooks that soar over everything that came before on the record.
When Cosentino fully jumps into the deep end of aping her influences and trying to be a pop star, she does a pretty good job. But the album as a whole finds her skirting the line between that and her older material. While the lowered stakes of a mini-album are a way for her to try out new ideas, they mostly don’t stick. Given how derivative they are, listeners may begin to wonder if Cosentino is running out of fresh ideas.