Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"West Coast" / Coconut Records

Sheepishly, I gotta own up -- I dig this single. I even sing along, and loudly, whenever it comes up on the radio (I don't listen to mainstream radio at all, but Sirius's Alt Nation pushes this song big-time). The last commercial single I fell for like this was "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White Ts. Yeah, I know that the kids today don't have great singles the way we did back in the day, but catchy numbers like these give me faith that pop music is not dead.

I had no idea who Coconut Records was, of course. Then after seeing Phantom Planet (one of the opening acts for Panic at the Disco last month) I googled Phantom Planet and discovered that the force behind Coconut Records is their former drummer, Jason Schwartzman. Yes, THAT Jason Schwartzman, the actor who was so endearing in Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited -- and who I now learn is the son of Talia Shire, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, and cousin of Nicolas Cage. Sure is a tiny world.

Actually, I like the Coconut Records songs I've heard more than Phantom Planet's, especially since PP has headed in a harder rock direction. (But then Coconut Records, which is really just Schwartzman, only has released one album, 2007's Nighttiming) "West Coast" has the same sort of endearing slacker quality as Schwartzman's movie roles. His slightly nasal, whiny warble sounds like a real guy, feeling just a tad sorry for himself because he misses his girlfriend.

There's just the right amount of weary petulance in that chorus: "I miss you, I'm going back home to the West Coast / I wish you would put yourself in my suitcase / I love you, standing all alone in a black coat / I miss you, I'm going back home to the West Coast." It's so artless and naive -- no rhymes, each line repeating the same melodic fragment, a twiddly synth riff following each reiteration. By the time he gets to the fourth line, he can't think of anything new so he just repeats the first line again. And yet it's so plaintive -- the black coat, the standing alone -- that it works. I feel lonesome too, just listening to him.

The weather's miserable and rainy, and he admits he's been talking to himself -- or rather, "I talk out loud like you're still around." The girl's sleeping as he packs his bags (another classic pop set-up.) And instead of building to a grandiose ending, he flips back and forth behind clamorous intervals of choral ahhs and the simple stripped-down verses/chorus. For some reason this doesn't sound overproduced, despite all the strings and pounding electric piano and chiming vocalists -- it's just unruly, like life.

He's not trying to change the situation, he just thinks it sucks. Remember Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate, floating aimlessly around his parents' swimming pool, waiting for life to solve itself? That sort of existential anomie felt radical in 1967; nowadays it's the common mindset of everybody under 30. That passive sense of hopelessness runs through "West Coast" -- he thinks it's just because he's missing his girlfriend, but it's really his whole life that needs saving.

Is this a great song? Probably not -- not in the league of the Boxtops' "The Letter" or the Turtles' "Happy Together" or even "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians. (Talk about dating myself...) But it makes me happy every time it comes on the radio -- which is as good a criterion as any for a pop song.

West Coast sample


Anonymous said...

Hey Holly. Speaking of actors and actresses making music these days, have you heard "Vol. 1" by She & Him. It features the songwriting and vocals of Zooey DeSchanel (the actress) and it's collaborated with M. Ward.

It's like a throwback record to the great girl group sounds of the 60's. J. DeShannon, Lesley Gore and the whole Spector-Brian Wilson sound.

It's my favorite of the year!


Anonymous said...

i agree this song is marvellous! as soon as i hear the intro i get a massive grimace

Vintage Dress said...

i couldn't have said it better myself! this song plays all the time at work and it's in my head tonight. i googled it and came to your blog. thanks for this summary of the song it was perfect.

Holly A Hughes said...

For some reason this always feels like a summer song to me, and it's back in my head as the weather warms up.