During the ’80s, Camper Van Beethoven were violin-toting college-rock oddballs who dabbled in everything from ska and world music to fractured country and psych-pop. The David Lowery-led group took most of the ’90s off after a bitter breakup, but when the band reunited in 1999, its music was as gloriously askew as ever. In 2002, they released an elaborate, song-for-song re-do of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk; two years later came the prog-driven New Roman Times, a concept album with a politically-charged storyline referencing aliens, terrorism and a Texas vs. California civil war.
Thematically, La Costa Perdida — Camper Van Beethoven’s first album since New Roman Times — is more cohesive: It’s steeped in the cultural history, weirdo aesthetic and laid-back vibe of Northern California. This local flavor especially permeates La Costa Perdida: “You Got To Roll” is a smoldering psych-freak guitar jam on which Lowery shrieks, “Let’s make love — before we die!” right before he exclaims, “Too high, too high!” The title track, meanwhile, is a Norteño-influenced, oompah waltz, and “Northern California Girls” is a loping alt-country sprawl with Jonathan Segel’s evocative violin and plush vocal harmonies courtesy of guests such as the Futurebirds. On the twang-darkened moodpiece “Come Down the Coast,” you can also hear shadows of the Beach Boys’ heavy-lidded 1973 psych-pop opus Holland, which Lowery has cited as an influence.
But what stands out most on La Costa Perdida is Camper Van Beethoven’s songwriting. The band’s approach is no less diverse — the giddy, two-minute ska high-step “Peaches In The Summertime” comes several songs after the Flaming Lips-esque “Too High For The Love-In” — but it’s also focused, with little of the self-indulgence which often made New Roman Times sluggish. And for a band known for its wicked humor, La Costa Perdida is often strikingly sincere; for example, the album-closing “A Love For All Time” is a syrupy homage to picture-perfect beach noir music that sounds like Pulp on a tropical island. It’s an unexpectedly vulnerable way to end an album full of warped California pop, but it’s also indicative of how Camper Van Beethoven has cobbled together a fine career by doing nothing but tossing curveballs.