"Crazy for You"
Three and a half stars
"King of the Beach"
Bethany Cosentino, the singer and songwriter behind the frizzy L.A. summer-pop band Best Coast, has a tattoo of California with the outline of a bear on her arm. It's fitting — a few spins of her charming, endlessly re-playable debut, full-length "Crazy for You," would make anyone want to move here.
By contrast, if Wavves' Nathan Williams were to get some similarly California-themed body art, it might be a back portrait of a blood-lusting coyote riding a surfboard while ripping hits off a skull-shaped water bong. Wavves' searingly disenchanted new album "King of the Beach" is a giddy perversion of every Golden State stereotype. Imagine Nathanael West as a skate-punk burnout, or if the recipient of Brian Wilson's teenage symphonies to God told him to set stuff on fire in parking lots.
Not coincidentally, the two are dating. But each have made opposite and near-perfect rock albums that, taken together, might be among the most inviting portraits of being young in Los Angeles in 2010.
Best Coast's scrimmy, treble-heavy guitar pop could have gotten lost in the pack of her twentysomething Spector-revival peers. But the songs are so good they can disarm any skeptics. Try to hear album opener "Boyfriend" without an abiding itch to throw a slumber party, or avoid nodding in solemn agreement to Cosentino's plea on "Goodbye" that "I wish my cat could talk." If the album's a bit monochromatic as a whole, the sheer warmth and craft of the songwriting makes every single feel new again.
Band mate Bobb Bruno and producer Lewis Pesacov add some welcome rhythmic backbone and atmosphere, but the show is Cosentino's, and "Crazy for You" cements an essential new voice in L.A. music.
Wavves made a commercial and critical breakthrough last year with the consonant-addled album, "Wavvves." But only a few songs survived the sonic mangle that made the phrase "it sounds like it was recorded in a trash can" an insult to trash-can fidelity. With producer Dennis Herring and the late Jay Reatard's relentless rhythm section minding the shop on "King of the Beach," Williams is free to write actual tunes, and lo and behold, they're extraordinary.
"Take on the World" has one of the best slacker-laments in recent rock — "To take on the world would be something," Williams mutters over propulsive guitar slosh. But when he says, "I hate my music, it's all the same," he shouldn't worry. "King of the Beach" pulls from Ritchie Valens' pre-Beatles guitar pop ("Convertible Balloon"), the Jesus and Mary Chain's druggy doo-wop ("When Will You Come") and caveman grunge ("Green Eyes").
But the best sound on "King of the Beach" is what isn't there. Williams' trashy defensive pose is out, and in is a kind of acidic sweetness. "I don't want to walk outside without you," he sings on "Baseball Cards," and it's the kind of vulnerable, hopeful sentiment that might make a California girl go crazy for him.
— August Brown
Jones tunes into his soul
"Praise & Blame"
(Lost Highway/Mercury Nashville)
Tom Jones turned 70 in June and one listen to "Praise & Blame" leaves no doubt that he's finally decided it's time to stop kidding around. Musically, he's checked out of Vegas and set up shop in Memphis, or maybe Muscle Shoals, for a revivifying excursion through American gospel and blues.
Comparisons will be drawn to Johnny Cash's teaming with Rick Rubin on his series of "American" albums, and Jones and his producer, Ethan Johns, need make no apologies for charting a parallel path that brings out the best in this veteran singer's artistry.
In fact, "artistry" isn't a word that's come up frequently enough through Jones' long career, which he's too often used to exploit his sexuality rather than his spirituality.
Here, he and Johns are working with a faultless batch of songs, starting with Bob Dylan's soul-searching "What Good Am I?" from the Bard of Hibbing's standout 1989 album "Oh Mercy." The journey moves through John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell," which sounds here like a White Stripes outtake, through Billy Joe Shaver's remorseful "If I Give My Soul" and even a more upbeat, yet still haunting, arrangement of "Ain't No Grave," the title track from the final entry in the Cash-Rubin series.
Johns lays down a resonant sonic foundation akin to what's become the hallmark of T Bone Burnett's work, and it's the ideal framework for Jones' newfound gravitas. That's a quality that has been unusual through much of the Welsh singer's life, but hopefully won't be from here on out.
— Randy Lewis
Metal mutation for the gamers set