Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: 429 Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, American Underground
Camper Van Beethoven snuck into a fair number of ears early in their career making music that didn’t make a lot of sense—lyrically or musically. Their 1985 debut Telephone Free Landslide Victory is still a brilliant cluster of Eastern European influence and punk-rock slop sung by a guy who sounded like he could have been an extra in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Subsequent records were slightly less far out and far more produced, but they hung onto the band’s unmistakable quirkiness.
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.
Before David Lowery was known as a leading crusader for musicians' rights against the evils of thieving NPR interns, and/or the frontman of fairly popular 90s alt-rock band Cracker, he was the most famous member of semi-famous, 80s indie band Camper Van Beethoven. It's important to point out, because it sometimes seems like the world has forgotten as much. CVB has managed the dubious trick of being influential without being imitated-- they helped to invent the since outmoded term "college rock," paving the way for much of the music covered by this very website.
Even Camper Van Beethoven’s ’80s fans — whoever was left in the mid-00s — never expected the band to roar back with one of its finest releases, 2004’s New Roman Times. Eight years later frontman David Lowery puts his long time Cracker project on hold for this terrific follow-up. The songs are loosely connected with a somewhat disjointed conceptual thread based on the north coast of California, where CVB was formed.
A hastily signed, well-worn postcard from the group’s Northern California haunts of Redlands, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco, La Costa Perdida, the eighth studio album from consistently unclassifiable freak-rock pioneers Camper Van Beethoven, plays fast and loose with the band’s mythology. Steeped in a hazy patina of Post-Laurel Canyon, ratty boot cut jeans, and barefoot, Pacific Ocean Americana, CVB's first album since 2004’s New Roman Times is willfully homespun, rough around the edges, and crackly as a campfire full of pine branches, roaches, junk mail, and empty tall boys. Boasting a well-seasoned crew in David Lowery, Victor Krummenacher, Jonathan Segal, Greg Lisher, Chris Pedersen, and Michael Urbano), La Costa Perdida flies highest when it’s high-fiving its fan base.
We’re a solid decade into the second act of Camper Van Beethoven’s run, having returned in the early ‘00s with the release of their version of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, reissues of older albums, a long string of live shows and, in 2004, their last album, New Roman Times. Almost nine years later, we get the follow up seemingly out of nowhere. La Costa Perdida shares little in common with its predecessor, and this is both a good development and curious shift.
Camper Van Beethoven’s delightfully irreverent and musically scatterbrained 1985 debut, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, played like a Dear Abby column for the “Why so serious?” faction of the ‘80s indie scene. Lose track of your friend Bill? They had theories. Got a lawn full of skinheads? Grab your bowling shoes. Nearly 30 years later, not all that much has changed.
When David Lowery went on a good run in the'90s with the country-rocking Cracker, it seemed that band's success would put his earlier work with Camper Van Beethoven in its proper context as an important, if not essential, component of American indie rock's birth. Instead, since 1999, Lowery has attempted to pick up where he left off a decade earlier — a brave artistic choice, but on another level, a purely self-indulgent one. The pattern with reunited '80s indie rock heroes has been playing up their strengths, but with CVB, their sound was too all over the place to begin with.
Until lead singer David Lowery's angry anti-downloading open letter to NPR intern Emily White went viral last year, most of the world hadn't thought much about Camper Van Beethoven in a long time. Best known for their nonsensical 1985 novelty punk hit Take The Skinheads Bowling, the band went dormant for most of the 90s, reunited in 1999 and released a mostly ignored album in 2004. But courtesy of the dialogue that Lowery sparked, the one-hit-wonder college rock band is back on the radar.