Written by: Dave Cantrell
With a plummy downtempo vibe and a fuzzy drone guitar break, dotted with a summery melancholy – winsome yearning, misty vistas etc – and a twinkling of electric piano out of a lost Bee Gee’s teenage dream, “Ruminator,” the first track on Coastgaard’s second album Devil on the Balcony, sets a promising tone for what comes in its shimmering wake. It’s a promise primarily kept.
First single “Black White Fuzz” takes the band’s much-noted Beach Boys/Ventures influence and converts it into something approximating what a spliced-together hybrid of those two legends might have sounded like had they found a way to time warp forward and draw some impetus from Vampire Weekend, it has that kind of conflicted buoyancy to it, ebullient yet somehow as downcast as it is upbeat. “Dear Nessie,” a track that initially feels destined to get stranded in a similarly-inflected, “Spanish Harlem”-flavored pastiche, is saved by its stuttering quirkiness, the percussive structure with an endearing built-in stumble that can’t help but trigger empathy as our own better-left-forgotten heartaches reappear in memory’s mirror, which historically has to be among a pop song’s most powerfully charming effects. The killer “Killer Swan” not only does an excellent turn at boisterous boardwalk pop – there’s no small amount of tearing it up as it shifts gears into a crescendo’d climax – it also turns a few quick surprising corners that in effect amount to its vaulting AM aspirations getting jacked into an art-rocked FM monster. Simply put, it’s a thing of beauty. “A Well Adjusted Man,” despite what its title might imply, is a decidedly un-Kinksian romp through the more urbane soundscapes of the indie pop-rock domain, its chorus bursting into a high school dancehall hit and that’s nothing but a compliment since at this infinitely stratified point in rock’n’roll history the prospects of writing anything this propulsively (and sneakily) sophisticated are prohibitively thin, a fact only reinforced a couple tracks later by the band’s waltz-y stab at heartfelt teenage swoon-pop (“Genevieve”) that regardless of its abiding classicism and a ripping good guitar run can’t raise itself beyond the level of a decent Dion and the Belmonts’ B-side.
While such occasional slips happen – “Fur,” for instance, while apparently intended, lyrically at least, to pay homage to 70’s reggae and R&B, fails to ignite, its comfort with itself a bit too tepid – Devil on the Balcony consistently pleases. While not yet threatening to reach the Wilsonian heights toward which their influences drive them – their songs, it could be said, are at this stage something more akin to ‘teenage symphonies to gosh’ – Coastgaard’s sophomore effort is nonetheless a strong record that puts the ‘potent’ in potential while pointing to the compelling likelihood of a truly great record brewing within.