San Franciscan alt-rockers Camper Van Beethoven return with their first studio album in almost a decade, and their third since the ’80s band’s reunion in 1999. Given CBV’s previous post-reunion efforts – 2002’s Tusk (a re-recording of the entire Fleetwood Mac album of the same name), and 2004’s 20-track concept album New Roman Times – fans might reasonably have expected the band’s next release to be pretty out-there, but La Costa Perdida (‘The Lost Coast’) is actually a fairly straightforward record.
In terms of its general mood, La Costa Perdida is a quintessentially ‘California’ album, and a quintessentially Camper Van Beethoven album, too: laid back almost to the point of lethargy, its 12 songs seemingly designed to soundtrack a dusk barbecue on some West Coast beach, the sun slipping below the horizon line to the band’s loose, gentle folksy sound.
And the band want you to go and join them: on the two almost-identical tracks titled Come Down The Coast, frontman David Lowery exhorts a series of exotically-named girls to “come down and see me sometime” and “bring down your good friends”, in his distinctive if-Edwyn Collins-had-met-Mark Knopfler-on-a-NoCal-beach tones. The melancholy Northern California Girls sees him attempting to persuade the titular females to “come home from Texas”, asking them “don’t you miss the ocean, don’t you miss the weather, don’t you miss me just a little bit?”. In general the album comes across as a paean to the Golden State, placing it in that long tradition of Cali love-ins which stretches from The Beach Boys to Best Coast.
Camper Van Beethoven might be familiar to some for their minor ’80s hits Take The Skinheads Bowling and Pictures of Matchstick Men (a cover of the Status Quo song) – sweetly mellow college, slightly REM-ish rock tracks with sinewy, folky violin parts that set them apart slightly from all the other sweetly mellow, slightly REM-ish college rock tracks kicking about at the same time. On La Costa Perdida, the band takes the folky, country sound that was always subtly evident in their music and runs wild with it. Take Peaches In The Summertime for example, a two-minute blast of country-rock embellished with crunchy violin flourishes and slick tempo changes, or the mournful title track, all bouncing Johnny Cash bassline and bluegrassy guitar stabs.
La Costa Perdida isn’t CBV ‘going country’, though. There’s a vast array of influences in the album that spans 20th century popular music, from the easy-listening lounge lizard of Love For All Time, to the bluesy, pared-down hard rock in a track like You Got To Roll, a song very much in the vein of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze but with a jangly, energetic chorus worthy of Led Zeppelin at their best. Closing track My Invisible Car, with its endearingly naïve lyrics – “I’ve got an invisible car, it flies but not very far” – is distinctly Cat Stevens-esque, and there’s even a sitar on the treacle-slow Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out, buzzing and twanging quietly behind syrupy violins and whining slide-guitar.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to criticise La Costa Perdida for its relentless harking back to the past: this is an album that could have been released in the ’70s without anyone accusing it of being ‘ahead of its time’. But if you get past the fact that CBV aren’t trying to be radical or cutting edge, or even particularly contemporary, you’ll find a pleasantly undemanding, chilled-out record that’s the perfect soundtrack for all those warm summer evenings we’re crossing our fingers for at the moment.