Camper Van Beethoven ‘La Costa Perdida' (429 Records)
Camper Van Beethoven has always been an eclectic and fun-loving bunch, and nine years away from the studio hasn't dulled their sharp wit and musical wildness. After all, you'd like to think that a band that had its first success with an outrageously titled ditty like “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” and once recorded a song-for-song remake of Fleetwood Mac's studio epic “Tusk” just for laughs, would never lose its sense of fun and adventure.
“La Costa Perdida,” this eccentric left coast outfit's first full album of new material since 2004's excellent “New Roman Times,” brings the good news that lead singer/guitarist David Lowery and company still possess the agile ability to turn stylistic cartwheels through rock, punk, folk and world music without ever losing their balance.
The members have touted this record as a celebration of Northern California where Lowery and bassist Victor Krummenacher first got together as students at UC Santa Cruz, rounding out their sound with Jonathan Segel on guitar, mandolin, organ and prominent violin. “Come Down the Coast” is the warm breeze of a rock ballad that paints the first strokes of ocean sunset imagery, before the mood turns trippy with the surf-guitar-driven “Too High for the Love-In,” which finds the singing narrator (Lowery) flashing back to a woozy night of overindulgence in his misspent '60s youth. There's more haunting, psych-blues, noir guitar on the shadowy “You Got to Roll,” while Segel's violin brings an Eastern-flavored fever-dream tension to the emotionally shadowy “Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out.”
The proceedings abruptly brighten with the double-time, Celtic- and country-flavored reel called “Peaches in the Summertime,” then turn dreamy with the acoustic-electric ode to “Northern California Girls,” with its sunny lyrical portrait of going “barefoot on the beaches” and teaching the kids “how to surf and play baseball” under deep blue skies.
And so it goes from dark to light, as is the way with so many of this schizophrenic assemblage's works. Most of CBV's albums are uneven at best, and don't go down as smoothly as the music of Cracker, which is Lowery's more mainstream, alt-country-oriented outfit. But every Camper package contains its share of happy surprises.
— Gene Triplett