Throughout the CoCo B’s self-titled debut album, frontman Kevin Castillo’s casual, somewhat sleepy vocals, similar to those of the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas or Phoenix’s Thomas Mars, initially lulled me into thinking their songs were summing up life and love in Los Angeles with nothing more than an ambivalent shrug (“I want a refund cuz my medication prescription won’t last,” he sings on “Access to No.’s”), albeit one with an appealing pop-rock sheen. But on a subsequent listen, the frustration and cynicism in the lyrics kicked in, and the CoCo B’s debut revealed itself to be very much in line with Evan Dando and the Lemonheads’ style of songwriting: sweet on the outside, sour on the inside. Throw an extra coating of neon orange on that candy shell and you have the essence of this California band’s memorable, melodic style and substance.
In “Modern Lover,” the album’s opening song and catchiest single, the singer declares himself “a troublemaker with dumb ideas” as he tries to salvage a romance that ended before it began, but in “Hot Pantz” he’s ready to give up on the dating scene: “Now don’t say anything / That leads to more complaints … I don’t wanna find out / That there’s a reason to try.” Randy Newman may love L.A., however ironically, but Castillo will only admit that “I Live in L.A.,” then confesses “I had too much of the city.” In the gorgeous, melancholy “Souvenir Boy,” which features slide guitar, harmonica, and gentle keys, he longs for an exit from his endless tour of the magic kingdom: “Say captain oh mighty captain / Will you take me out to sea … I’m just a souvenir boy who lost track of time.” The LP’s loose narrative comes to a close with “Culture Contact,” an acknowledgment that even though Castillo’s been temporarily defeated by his plastic surroundings, “the choice is mine” and therefore “I won the contest.” But, to be honest, “I fixed the contest.”
The singer’s medium-cool delivery and the lyrics’ underlying rumblings of restlessness remind me of Paul Simon’s great line in “You Can Call Me Al”: “Get these mutts away from me / You know, I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.” You can only grit your teeth for so long. The singer is playing the game the best he knows how, but he’s praying for a rainout.
Musically speaking, the CoCo B’s are playing the game as well, flirting with the listener but never quite wearing their heart on their sleeve. I’m excited to hear what they come up with next, because their sweet-and-sour brand of pop is much appreciated these days, but I hope that on their second album they’ll do much more than smile from the corner of the bar. Right now they’re keeping their distance, but I’ve already been hooked. Next time I want them to pop the question.