Bethany Cosentino was rifling through the basement of her parents’ house a couple of weeks ago and came across her high-school journal. She hesitantly cracked it open and began reading. “I had to stop,” she laughs. Audibly cringing over the phone, she reveals the culprit: boyfriend drama.
“It was something about him not wanting to go to one of my high school’s football games.” She doesn’t understand now why she would’ve been so upset: A bit of a punk, she didn’t even like football. She and her boyfriend went to opposing high schools, so perhaps he felt uncomfortable to be seen on the arm of a rival — such a blatant act of teenage insubordination.
Cosentino, the 28-year-old lead singer of the L.A. rock duo Best Coast, stashed the journal at her own house for later. “I think I’ll be able to read it again,” she assures herself.
Even back then, she was never shy about translating her emotions onto paper. More than a decade later, so much has changed — but also stayed the same. She still writes her thoughts about love, life in Cali, and especially heartache. She does this with the unapologetic straightforwardness of a teenager locked in a room, though now her thoughts don’t remain sealed in a journal.
The rise of Best Coast happened fast. After messing around in the L.A. music scene for a bit, Cosentino met fellow local musician Bobb Bruno. In 2009, the two formed Best Coast, producing fuzzy, lo-fi surf rock drenched in green smoke. Eventually, the layers of reverb-heavy power chords were stripped away, and Cosentino’s voice — a crooning inflection infused with equal parts pop and rock — began to emerge as her anxiety and stage fright slowly melted away.
The band’s debut album, July 2010’s Crazy for You, put Best Coast on the internet’s radar. With standout tracks “Boyfriend,” “Our Deal,” and “When I’m With You,” Crazy for You entered the Billboard 200 at number 36. With some critical buzz at their heels, the two picked up a drummer (Vivian Girls’ Ali Koehler) and hit the road to tour and play festivals such as Coachella.
But the success also brought criticism — some particularly vitriolic internet hate — though is there really any other kind of internet hate than the particularly vitriolic? Anonymous users called Cosentino’s minimalist and direct approach to songwriting too simplistic. They ragged on her for having too many songs about love and weed and California.
The criticism continued after the release of the band’s sophomore album, The Only Place, which featured more tracks about love and California. But the hate seemed a bit unbalanced and unfair. After all, writing songs about hometowns is hardly a novelty. And if it’s such a bad thing, where’s the outrage every time Bruce Springsteen pens a song about New Jersey?
“God bless you for saying that,” Cosentino laughs. She doesn’t see what’s wrong with loving your hometown either — loving it so much you just want to sing about it, like she did on their second album’s title track, “The Only Place.”
“Why would you live anywhere else?” the chorus asks over and over and over again, until it almost becomes a taunt.
Perhaps there’s something about California that makes it easier to hate. Songs about living in warm Los Angeles might appear — especially to those poor, shivering masses up North — boastful. South Floridians can relate. Yet people seem to hate the Sunshine State not for its weather, but for its unusually high rate of bizarre, meth-fueled acts of violence.
It’s hard to sympathize with those shocked that the duo sings so often about the Golden State. After all, the name “Best Coast” is a dead giveaway.
Which begs another question: If California lies on the “best coast,” does that, by default, make the East Coast the worst? Cosentino did spend some time in New York City, at the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, where she studied creative writing before dropping out and booking a flight back home, far from the frozen sidewalks of NYC.
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“No, you’re not that bad,” Cosentino says from her couch in Cali. Still, don’t expect the group to stick around long after Thursday’s gig at Grand Central. Best Coast’s latest album, California Nights, which dropped in May, continues to sing the praises of the band’s home state, like one big California-shaped middle finger to critics and anyone who dares speak ill of the best coast.