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Best Coast Achieves A New, More Poignant Power On 'Almost Tomorrow'


This is FRESH AIR. It's been five years since the two-person band Best Coast put out an album. On their new album, Bethany Cosentino explains the gap in very personal detail. Cosentino is the band's singer-songwriter; Bobb Bruno is the guitarist-bassist. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Best Coast's new album called "Almost Tomorrow."


BEST COAST: (Singing) So sorry for everything. You know I really wanted it to work out. I put the blame on everybody. Wasn't capable of not being stressed out. I wanted to move on, but I kept writing the same songs. Now that...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: When Best Coast released its first album in 2010, the band came across as light and bright, thoroughly familiar with every commercial pop structure extending back to the 1960s; in other words, distinctive and impressive for a duo fronted by a 24-year-old woman who grew up in Los Angeles entering talent competitions and auditioning for commercials. Now four albums into the story of Best Coast, singer Bethany Cosentino has a new chapter she wants to make sure is heard loud and clear.


BEST COAST: (Singing) I used to drink nothing but water and whiskey. Now I think those were the reasons why I used to fall deep down in a hole. I used to crawl all the way back home. I used to cry myself to sleep reading all the names they called me. Used to say that I was lazy, a lazy, crazy baby. Did they think...

TUCKER: That's "Everything Has Changed," the song that serves as a manifesto for this new album "Always Tomorrow." What's changed in Cosentino's life, she is very blunt in telling you, is that she's sober now after years spent numbing herself in various ways. She's making new music with the passion of a 12-step convert. And because she and guitarist Bobb Bruno are so good at creating catchy songs with complex underpinnings, Cosentino never sounds unaware or glib. Here she is singing the song "Graceless Kids," which we're going to pick up on in its key second verse.


BEST COAST: (Singing) Who am I to keep preaching to the graceless kids of tomorrow? They need a hero, not a wreck. I'm just a phony in a floral print dress. I quit drinking so I could stop thinking about all the [expletive] from years ago. And all this time's gone by and still I'm wondering why. I am the queen...

TUCKER: Bethany Cosentino says she quit drinking so she could stop torturing herself over so many of the things that have caused her anxiety and depression in years past. This kind of clear thinking finds a musical echo in the ringing clarity of the song's melody; indeed, in nearly every melody in this gleaming, propulsive collection. With Bruno providing the guitar hooks and the crunch, Cosentino bites down hard on the hand that used to feed her bad stuff. She feels the pain since that hand was her own.


BEST COAST: (Singing) Trying really hard. I'm trying harder than I ever have before. Used to think that taking care of myself would just become a real bore. On Friday nights, I don't spend too much time lying on the bathroom floor like I used to. The demons deep inside of me, they might have finally been set free. And I guess this is what they mean when they say people can change because I finally feel free. I feel like myself again, but for the first time.

TUCKER: Cosentino's real theme on this album, a word she uses over and over in an artful variety of ways, is change. "I guess this is what they mean when they say people can change because I finally feel free," she sings on that song called "For The First Time." On the song "Rollercoaster," she says, I'm the same way I used to be; took away substances is the only change I see. And as I said earlier, the song "Everything Has Changed" is the album's beating, open heart.

But this being pop music, Cosentino's recovery would not by itself make for good art. Instead, Bethany Cosentino has used her new clear-headedness as the creative rocket fuel that propels the songs she and Bruno have built here. We used to call this kind of music power pop. With Best Coast, it achieves a new, more poignant kind of power.

GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "Almost Tomorrow" by the band Best Coast. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be RuPaul, who brought drag into the mainstream with his reality competition series "RuPaul's Drag Race," which just started a new season. We'll talk about how he first started dressing in drag and the significance of drag in his life and in our culture. And our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will have an appreciation of pianist McCoy Tyner, who died last week. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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