Where the Boys Are
(Blackest Coast; 2009)
By Calum Marsh | 14 August 2009
That Where The Boys Are should emerge as the shitgaze zeitgeist enters its twilight is no deliberate err on the part of Best Coast, but market saturation and a diminished tolerance for the genre’s more irksome quirks means Bethany Cosentino has her work cut out for her. There’s no blame to be assigned here; this is sunny, summery pop music drenched in noise and distortion, and that’s that—it sounds familiar because you’ve heard it before, and we’ve described it before, and this is but another in a growing line of lo-fi cassette tapes circulating “hip” circles. Best Coast are late to the game…and we are, quite frankly, sick of this shit.
It helps that the chosen aesthetic is, if fundamentally superficial and eventually dull, immensely appealing. CMG’s official track record with the genre has been uniformly positive: we’ve extolled the virtues of Times New Viking, Vivian Girls, and most of pretty much everything on In the Red, even refusing, rather uncharacteristically, to cast a dissenting opinion with an untimely Wavves review. But behind closed doors, our disposition seems at odds with our critical opinions: Best Coast and their ilk, even their obvious superiors, are received with ambivalence or skepticism. We roll our eyes when Nathan Williams does something, like, embarrassing. Babs, like, hates Everything Goes Wrong. And so Where The Boys Are itself has neither the solidity or freshness of its elder contemporaries, but it still serves a useful critical function, that is (and this is the distillation of the essential shitgaze contradiction) demonstrating how this seemingly flash-in-the-pan aesthetic is perversely satisfying but wafer-thin, making it the Big Thing music we love to hate. And it speaks to an uncomfortable reality of fair criticism: How can we condemn this, highlight and underline its faults and flaws, when the act of listening itself remains strangely enjoyable?
As Clay long-ago wrote of Girl Talk’s Night Ripper (2006), one might find himself “infected, though no less appalled by the record’s base appeal.” Best Coast, and, in fact, its kin in general, is similarly affecting: it’s hard to deny the appeal of fuzzy, conspicuously-D.I.Y. pop music, though the exploration of that appeal beyond its initial engagement reveals its flimsiness. Best Coast’s songs are predictably, amply steeped in feedback and tape hiss, each unfolding lazily, stressing its own disaffected apathy and unflagging coolness, then doing little, very little, else. The thin-eyed, stoned bedroom-rock fantasy is played out with aplomb, sounding exactly how we’d like it sound, which is independent, disinterested, atypically beautiful, and painfully of the moment. We know these things to be shallow, but we get caught up in it, because it’s familiar. How are we supposed to take a song like “Angsty,” with its refrain of “it’s overwhelming how much I hate everything,” when it’s just as easy to relate to the song’s sentiment as it is to be bored to death by how pitiful it is? It’s plainly and deliberately placid, and yet there’s no sense of satire or subversion. Is this intended to be ironic? To paraphrase that classic Simpsons episode: “I don’t know even know anymore.”
So, in the difficulty of reconciling cosmetic pleasures with a nagging sense of critical responsibility, we choose the middle (banality) which at least has the advantage of self-awareness and intentionally narrow satisfaction. Best Coast falls headfirst into that gray area between enduring legitimacy and vapid guilty pleasure, which is a crack all this music, all this, ugh, “shitgaze,” seems destined to fall through. The honeymoon period is fleeting, and with a few notable exceptions, we can probably sweep Best Coast and the like under the rug without much regret—although for now, however ephemeral, it’s good for a slight fix.