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Best Coast - Best Kids Music Album Reviews

Best Coast - Best Kids Music Album Reviews
Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno recapture the dizzy exuberance that drew audiences to their early singles—but trade the weed for ice cream—on their first foray into kids’ music.

A debate recently broke out online over whether parents should bring their children to see live music, but it’s the kids who are really in charge. Much as teenagers with money and leisure time gave rise to a new youth culture in the 1950s and ’60s, streaming and smartphones mean that kids as young as toddlers can now influence the charts without spending a single cent. The rugrat-driven musical dystopia envisioned in Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-winning 2010 novel A Visit From the Goon Squad was upon us the moment a couple of wise guys from Norway thought to ask, “What does the fox say?”

In another sign of the tot-pocalypse, I recently heard a big-time producer brag that his new song would be on the lips of two-year-olds everywhere. To achieve that, though, he’d be best off securing a spot on the endless series of Kidz Bop compilations that have forced dippy hits by Lukas Graham and Magic! into otherwise musically upstanding homes. As a weary parent of a six-year-old, with a baby on the way, I’ve found solace in the rare music my kid loves as much as I do—a list that has dwindled down to A Charlie Brown Christmas and 2015’s brilliant This Record Belongs To compilation. Sometimes, post-Lego Batman, it’s enough to settle for a millionth stream of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”

Best Coast gamely make their first foray into this fraught but potentially rewarding terrain with the Amazon exclusive Best Kids. The album works partly because Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno recognize that what they’ve always done well—simple lyrics and catchy melodies, delivered from a strong emotional perspective and with a punkish beach-party energy—can be translated into children’s music with only a slight shift in themes. Unlike the indie-pop class a few years before Best Coast broke out, Cosentino’s songs of weed and heartbreak wouldn’t usually be mistaken for kids’ stuff. But this smart set of originals and covers applies the band’s peppy, sun-soaked directness to more innocent subject matter. Best Kids fills a vacant space on the Venn diagram of taste between parents predisposed to like Best Coast and their finicky, Captain Underpants-replaying offspring.

After the moody disaffection of 2015’s California Nights, it’s a delight to hear Best Kids’ originals move back toward the dizzy exuberance that endeared audiences to early songs like “When I’m With You.” A standout is the appropriately sugary “Ice Cream Mountain,” which boasts a title image fit to be drooled over equally by children and amiable stoners with cats named Snack, plus an unexpected smattering of cheap synth chirps to go with its familiar surf-wax Americana. Best Coast seem to revel in this record’s lower stakes on “Cats & Dogs,” a goofy (also, woof-y and meow-y) romp that gently reminds kids that “anyone can love anyone that they want.” The clarity of vision that made 2012’s The Only Place so perfect for travel commercials serves warmer and cuddlier ends here.

That approach carries over just as cleanly on the covers. Standbys like “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and “Rock-a-Bye Baby” get some extra music-box touches to their arrangements, but they’re still rendered as uptempo fuzz-rockers. The sound isn’t far from the spirit of Best Coast’s debut album, 2010’s Crazy for You, whose producer, Lewis Pesacov, returns for Best Kids. “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” most famously performed by “You Don’t Own Me” singer Lesley Gore, isn’t traditionally a kids’ song, but Best Coast’s version deftly splits the difference between “Ice Cream Mountain” and the girl-group yearning that powers the duo’s best songs.

Best Kids’ finale, a sanitized remake of “When I’m With You,” sums up both the project’s ample charm and its modest shortcomings. A spirited choir of girls who performed the song onstage with Best Coast during the all-female-identifying Girlschool L.A. festival takes the lead after the first verse, helping transform this love-it-or-hate-it indie chestnut into a road-trip-worthy family sing-along. But the lyrical switch from “sleeping alone,” in the original, to “watching TV alone” and “playing alone” is a bit awkward. As the inclusion of surf-splashed Kermit cover “Rainbow Connection”—one of the best kids’ songs ever—highlights, the truth is that kids can enjoy music that pairs deeper feelings with simple-seeming exteriors. But Best Coast can address that if they ever get to Best Kids 2. The next time the band comes through town, at least, there shouldn’t be any bickering over whether it’s OK to lug the kiddos.

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