If you were to pick a single avatar for the millennial musical experience, Bethany Cosentino would be as good a representative as any. An ’80s baby from LA, she started off making music for MySpace and resisted early interest from music labels to form a drone-noise act called Pocahaunted. After a brief experimental phase, she emerged in a new band, Best Coast, with a document that would become a crucial millennial signifier: Crazy for You.
Crazy for You took the college-age world by storm in 2010, filled with slow-moving stories of depression and unrequited desire. Cats, booze, and weed clouds filled out the aesthetic, as did a penchant for the sounds of the early ’60s. Drew Barrymore made a star-studded, 10-minute music video about rival gang members falling in love that stands as testament to the era.
After several love letters to California, Cosentino set the pace for millennials again when she opened up about getting sober on the last Best Coast album, 2020’s Always Tomorrow. That album had the misfortune of being released a month before the start of the pandemic, but now she’s released her first solo album, Natural Disaster. It’s the perfect way to catch up for anyone who might have checked out since American Apparel went out of business.
Cosentino’s sound has evolved alongside her mindset: Her music is faster now, her voice is lighter, and background vocals fill the empty space. She sounds determined to make the best of things, which would be a lot easier if the world could stop falling apart.
“This is the hottest summer I can ever remember / ’Cause the world is on fire,” she sings on the opening title track, “And, hey, if we’re all dying, then what does it matter? / We’re a natural disaster.” Later on she says, “this is the summer of our discontent,” in the happiest way someone can announce such a thing. Cosentino is able to capture the feeling of joy amid helplessness, even as the temperatures rise.
One of the things that makes Cosentino great at writing albums is that she will write several songs on the same topic—climate anxiety in this case—and find something new to say each time. Variations on a theme are one of her strengths. “I’m crying at the news again,” she says on the album’s next song, “Outta Time.” “If it’s not now then tell me when, because I am only human, and I don’t wanna run outta time.”
The third song on the album, though, certainly feels like a commentary on her Crazy for You stardom, and specifically on her relationship with Nathan Williams of the noisey surf-punk band Wavves (only real aging hipsters will remember when Crazy for You and Wavves’ King of the Beach got Best New Music on Pitchfork on the same day). “Imagine if I handled this shit like I used to,” she starts off, before declaring “I am evolved / You’ve stayed the same,” perhaps a swipe at the fact that Wavves music still sounds very much like the noisy surf-punk that he was putting out in 2008.
She doesn’t let herself off the hook, either. The chorus follows up by saying, “I am evolved / But I play the game.” Her sobriety, which began after their 2017 breakup, seemed to be a moment of deep self-reflection and honesty. “’Cause I don’t want to stay the same / We were born to change” she says later on one of the album’s best tracks, “My Own City.” Variations on a theme emerge here again. “I haven’t felt this fire in all my life / I always thought it had to feel like sacrifice.” Like Iggy Pop emerging from his own phase of self-destruction, Cosentino has a lust for life.
Cosentino offers a millennial redemption story on Natural Disaster: She got famous, found she wasn’t happy, and has been able to rebuild her creative life on her own terms. When listening to this album for this review, my partner was having a rough day and asking me to turn off all that happy music. Hard to imagine something like that happening with Crazy for You. But the cheeriness never feels saccharine. Every victory on Natural Disaster feels hard-earned, which is probably why the music sounds so good.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.