It’s hard to know how to feel about watching young love unfurl. Gross or giddy? For Bethany Cosentino and Nathan Williams, it’s happening publicly and, if not under a microscope, then over an ever-updating RSS feed. Poking and prodding each other via Twitter about such issues as the Disney program iCarly, the care of Cosentino’s ubiquitous cat, Snacks, and the mysterious disappearance of their weed card, the two @ each other the way teenagers do, with mock outrage and shaded references and occasional sweetness. They seem genuinely adoring of one another. And what a curious time for that to be happening.
This month, both Cosentino (who performs with Bobb Bruno as Best Coast) and Williams (frontman and chief songwriter for Wavves) have released new albums, both emitting a lazy sadness and dyspeptic self-loathing, but both also nonetheless thrilling odes to summer. (For the record, both also feature Snacks on the cover.) The former’s sound is theoretically sunnier than her BF’s, drawing on the Beach Boys’ skybound melodies, Courtney Love’s wailing dissatisfaction, and Lesley Gore’s sense of relationship dynamics; atop it all sits a rémoulade of fuzz and reverb. Cosentino is a cheery California native who spent part of 2008 in New York interning at The Fader before realizing that her home state is an easier place to live. (I know, right?) When she returned, she picked up her guitar and began writing songs; Crazy for You, her debut full-length after several EPs and 7-inches, appears to be a breakup album—and a quite literal one at that: “When you leave me/The bed is empty/And I feel crazy/’Cause I didn’t say anything,” she sings on “Our Deal.” One assumes that’s exactly what happened.
Her lyrics are a tricky thing—their literalism is both their greatest strength and a crippling weakness. On “Goodbye,” she sings, “I lost my job/I miss my mom/I wish my cat could talk.” But then, on the chorus, an incisive moment straight out of Edward Albee: “Every time you leave this house, everything falls apart/I don’t love you, but I don’t hate you/I don’t know how I feel.” These are diary entries—sometimes sophisticated, typically not, though they often ring true. Cosentino sings to a lost love, or about him, or maybe she’s just singing about the weather—”There’s something about the summer!” goes the chorus of “Summer Mood,” a rare moment of ambiguity that isn’t exactly hard to interpret. She’s working in a traditional rock ‘n’ roll mode, and she’s been quietly criticized for her regressive take on relationships—minus the weed gags and reverb, Crazy for You could’ve been made 50 years ago. Like her straightforward lyrics, it’s a nagging duality: She’s made a classicist album that may be too classic. But damn if there isn’t something about the summer.
Wavves’ King of the Beach has its own sort of classic vibe about it, though this is a more recent vintage: early 1994, say, when Green Day, Weezer, and Nirvana reigned. The band spent 2009 rising through the blog-rock ranks with their second home-recorded album, Wavvves, which sounded like a kid cutting his Dell in half with a chainsaw and then playing a torch song to said computer on a guitar made out of other chainsawed Dells. So, basically, it sounded like shit. But Beach shakes the lo-fi name-calling altogether. After a notorious and fairly overblown “meltdown” at the Primavera Music Festival in Spain last year that largely amounted to a 22-year-old on Ecstasy acting like a 22-year-old on Ecstasy, Williams made some adjustments. For starters, this one was recorded in a professional studio and produced by Dennis Herring, who helmed beloved albums by Camper Van Beethoven and Modest Mouse. (He also produced Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. No judgment.) Williams also recruited the rhythm section of Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes, both formerly of the late Jay Reatard’s touring band and geniuses of a certain type of sloshing punk—they can play fast or slow, messy or tight, and they sing in harmony. An excellent addition.
Williams has been unashamed about his influences—about Blink-182, he recently told Complex.com, “I don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks. If you listen to those songs, they hold up. They’re still really good.” And, like Best Coast, there’s an almost exuberant misanthropy at work here: “My own friends hate my guts, so what, ah, so what, who gives a fuck?” he sings on “Green Eyes,” a song thought to be about Cosentino. He’s a loner, Bethany, a rebel. But he’s also a surprisingly intuitive, even adventurous songwriter. Like Crazy for You, Williams’s record is brisk, clocking in under 40 minutes. But it takes far more risks, dabbling in Animal Collective–ish psych pastiche on “Baseball Cards,” Kurt Fauxbain dummy posturing on the riotous “Idiot,” and Phil Spector homage not once but twice—on the magical “Da Doo Run Run”–lifting “Mickey Mouse” and, less impressively, with a rip of the “Be My Baby” beat on “When Will You Come.” Also like Cosentino, things are never quite OK: He’s always raging against something—”You’re never gonna stop me, King of the Beach!” he blurts on the title track—but it’s never clear what or who he’s addressing, mostly because he doesn’t seem to have much to be bummed about. Life’s a beach, etc.
Together, Cosentino and Williams make a sort of ideal SoCal duo: shit-eating grins, Golden Girls reruns, and startling pop gifts. It’s about time rock had a proper power couple. They’re not exactly Kurt and Courtney—too much weed, not enough heroin/smarts—and their albums feel as ironic and pained, but rarely as earned. So, now that they’ve found love, what are they gonna do with it?