Embracing Acceptance, Best Coast Returns with First Album in Five Years

Bethany Cosentino sings on the joys of overcoming the odds, facing down new challenges.

Always Tomorrow, the upcoming fourth album from Los Angeles Best Coast, feels like a victory celebration, a moment of long-delayed bliss from songwriter Bethany Cosentino, who extols the virtues of being unshackled from alcohol dependency and crippling bouts of self-doubt.

The centerpiece of the album is “Everything Has Changed,” a Weezer-esque power-pop number where Cosentino declares that “Everything has changed/ I like it this way” to the background of insistent power chords and through-the-rafters choruses.

It is an ebullient statement of declaration — a summation of an album filled with references to cathartic rebirths and moments of triumph. Yet strangely enough, Cosentino wrote that song nearly three years ago — in the midst of a debilitating case of writer’s block and throughout pervasive depression that had long hobbled her.

“When I wrote that song, I was still very much in the darkness,” says Cosentino, whose band will perform at the Regency Ballroom on Saturday as part of the annual multi-week music festival Noise Pop. “It’s bizarre — I know I don’t sound like a person who was deeply depressed, but I can tell you I was. I’m in a much better place now, so it was almost like that song was prophetic. I don’t necessarily [know] that song willed me into happiness, but it might have been a secret inspiration.”

Cosentino tells SF Weekly she had never experienced that level of artistic frustration, and she questioned whether she would ever be able to finish writing another song. “Everything Has Changed,” helped kickstart the prolific creative flourishes that resulted in Always Tomorrow, but its origins still draw Cosentino back to a very dark time.

In many ways, the conflicting backdrop of “Everything Has Changed” aptly distills the essence of Best Coast. Upon first listen, the song structures and immediate emotional responses seems direct and obvious, but after further discovery the themes of the band are more complex and less available to easy interpretation. For years, Cosentino has used unfettered imagery to relay deceptively intricate messages.

Crazy for You, Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno’s 2010 debut as Best Coast, was a polarizing album. A masterpiece of lo-fi, low-stakes surf pop, fans took to Cosentino’s self-deprecating tales of smoking weed, chilling with her beloved cat, and idling romantically with her boyfriend. Pitchfork awarded the album its Best New Music award and it was named the fourteenth best record of the year by Spin Magazine. But the blogosphere was critical of the album, with detractors chastising Cosentino for her simplistic lyrics and unwavering belief in the power of the California sun (a beef that, in retrospect, had increasingly more to do with misogyny and sexism than any legitimate creative concerns).

Cosentino always had a more wink-wink approach to her songwriting. Her songs were emotionally direct and earnest, but she also readily embraced the caricature of the Valley girl aesthetic to logical ends, playing up the sun-dappled optimism of Best Coast in a knowing fashion. In “Everything Has Changed” she openly admits to that tactic, singing, “They used to say, I was a lazy, crazy baby/Did they ever think, that maybe I was in on it/No, of course they didn’t.”

Always Tomorrow fits in much of that same vein — on the surface levels it reads like a self-help manual, but Cosentino is not hubristic enough to think she knows what’s best for everyone. Many of the lyrics focus on her decision to turn her back on drugs and alcohol, but Cosentino respects others who take a different path toward happiness.

“I didn’t make a record to convince the world to get sober,” Cosentino says. “I’m still figuring shit out — I’m not trying to preach to you and I’m not trying to tell people to turn their life around. Some people don’t need to. I did need to, and I’m proud of myself that I did.”

Cosentino credits much of her personal turnaround to a regimented therapy schedule, an opportunity that she laments is not available to all because of the stigma related to mental health treatment (as well as the financial minefield that comes along with insurance coverage, or lack thereof). In the past, she would stress herself to the point of paralysis over things that hadn’t even happened yet — a kind of self-sabotage that she has managed to avoid with more self-care and a healthier lifestyle.

That is not to say that she is cured. While Cosentino is admittedly in a better place now than she was in those earlier, hazier years, she concedes that the healing process is a never-ending journey. That yin-yang philosophy is evident throughout her new album — for every joyful ode to winning like “Everything Has Changed,” there are tunes such as “Wreckage” and “Rollercoaster,” sober reflections on the precariousness of happiness.

Yes, Always Tomorrow — the first Best Coast album in five years — evokes the image of the conquering hero, returning after a long absence to proclaim victory, but Cosentino is self-aware enough to realize that victories can be fleeting, and the battles will continue.

“For me, it boils down to acceptance,” Cosentino says.

Acceptance is a concept that is long overdue for Cosentino and her band. There will be good days and bad days, adoring fans and narrow-minded critics, songs written in euphoric bursts of joy and dark holes of depression. As she mentions on her album, life’s a rollercoaster, and after a decade in this business, Cosentino finally seems at peace with that.

Best Coast with Mannequin Pussy, Saturday, Feb. 29, 8 p.m., at the Regency Ballroom. $25 – $30;  www.theregencyballroom.com

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