Sometimes a band needs to go big or go home. On California Nights, Best Coast go bigger than big and it proves to be exactly the right move. On their previous album, 2013's The Only Place, they made a baby step toward becoming a stadium indie band, but it ended up being more of a misstep. Working with Jon Brion, the duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno cut down on the guitar noise, added some sophistication, and ended up with a tepid album. This time with the help of producer Wally Gagel, they aim for the back row of arenas with a huge sound made up of layers of echoing guitars, drums that boom like cannons, and Cosentino's vocals way out front like they should be. An easy reference point is Hole's Celebrity Skin, when Courtney Love stopped worrying about being real and made a brilliant pop album instead. California Nights is the sound of a band embracing its destiny as a mainstream indie rock band, not a grungy punk duo. It may have worked for them in the past, but becoming a slick, sleek hook-dispensing machine was the only way for them to move ahead. It's true that fans of their early records might find this new approach to be a little too smooth, a little too well-produced, but they aren't trying to make those people happy anymore. They are aiming for fans of bands like Metric and Weezer (or to go back further, Smashing Pumpkins), who play(ed) for the masses, not for bloggers or vinyl fetishists. Most of the album hits a midtempo sweet spot, with the shiny guitars and powerful drums locking together in perfect harmony and Cosentino's more-powerful-than-before vocals sounding great on top. In this new context, her resignedly melancholic, sometimes morose lyrics fit much better; she seems to have smoothed out the rough spots that pretty much ruined The Only Place. This template works really well, but when they deviate from the basics the album really goes in some interesting directions. The title track is anthemic and epic, with Cosentino's soaring vocals and the atmospheric musical backing providing exactly the panoramic setting the song requires. The short and sweet "Fading Fast" is the poppiest song on the record, with handclaps and a super-hooky guitar riff. If it doesn't show up on a commercial at some point, it'll be a shock. The girl group-inspired "Wasted Time," which ends the album on a hazy, bummed-out note, shows that the band can indeed write convincing ballads. They only needed the right sound to make it work. That's the story with the whole album, since Best Coast had seemed to be floundering around trying to figure out their next step. On California Nights, they made a risky choice and it pays off in a big way. They come off assured and confident, fully in control of the songs and the sound in a way they never have before.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra