After an agonizing four-year wait, The Courtneys are back with their long-anticipated second album, The Courtneys II. The Vancouver-based band consisting of guitarist Courtney Loove, bassist Sydney Koke, and drummer and lead vocalist Jen Twynn Payne are as fresh as ever as they adeptly ride the wave between surf music and garage rock while pleasantly melding themes of falling in love with growing up and figuring things out. Unlike most sequels, this album improves upon its predecessor by taking its best elements – the sugary sweet sentiments against fuzzy lo-fi riffs – and transforming them into a more mature sophomore effort. The Courtneys II sees the band “come of age” as they juxtapose retro influence with personal growth, creating a unique sound sorely missing in the current music scene.
Where their self-titled 2013 album was diary entries, notes passed in class, and crank calls to crushes, II sees the band expanding upon the brief glimpses of introspection in their debut. This album is to The Courtneys what Flirting was to The Year My Voice Broke; naïveté has been traded for maturity and frank witticisms on love and life. That’s not say there isn’t an underlying innocence – it just functions differently. Instead of pining after crushes, the album deals more with coming to terms with not knowing where one is headed in life, yet forging ahead with optimism. This is particularly evident in the undeniably catchy sun-soaked “Tour” with the band reassuring us that “who you are and what you wanna be” takes a long time to actually figure out (which is comforting to struggling college students like myself).
References to certain cult classics add to the nostalgic feel of the album. “Lost Boys,” clocking in at almost seven minutes, is so enjoyable you forget its length. This charming nod to the endearingly cheesy 80s classic is another standout track due to its breezy lyrics about riding (or more accurately, flying) off into the sunset on your vampire teenage boyfriend’s motorcycle. The indiscernible lyrics of “Mars Attacks” make it open for interpretation and proves again just how eclectic The Courtneys can be by referencing a 90s film that spoofs 50s alien invasion b-movies.
The band also incorporates astrology in the introspective “25” (assumedly a birthdate as they mention being a Gemini and May 25th falls under that sign) and “Virgo,” a cloudy contrast to the more upbeat tracks that reflects the imminent coldness of September and summer coming to an end. The most concrete example of The Courtneys’ partial departure from the innocence of their debut is “Iron Deficiency,” which gives us a mouthful of the asperity we got a taste of in “Manion.” A surprisingly visceral track inspired by Payne’s job stress and being physically assaulted one night, the guitar never quite reaches the warm territory of other songs, keeping you on edge the entire duration. However, “Frankie,” an ode to the object of one’s affections, sees the band return to the sweeter fare of their first album and having it as the closing track reminds us that though The Courtneys explore, they never stray far from their roots.
Though Best Coast comparisons are sure to abound due to similar beachy sounds and lyrical themes, II showcases The Courtneys’ pleasantly gritty edge that Best Coast lacks. There’s a distinct early 90s garage band and feminist punk vibe amidst the California Sound, but make no mistake – Riot Grrrls they are not. There’s no political statements to be had or points to be made on II; they aren’t trying to be anything for anyone. They’re making music for the sole purpose of making music, with a sincerity that charms and resonates with the listener.
Another (probably unintentional) 90s influence comes by the way of vocals reminiscent of the Daria theme song. Unlike Splendora, though, they’re less monotone and possess a Belinda Carlisle-ian earnestness yet carefree vibe. The sunny tracks on The Courtneys II could earn a stamp of approval even from the cynical Daria herself – but not first without some prompting from Jane, of course. (Courtneys, if you’re reading this, please do a cover of “You’re Standing on My Neck.” The world needs it.)
Though some may complain that the range of lyrical subjects supposedly make the overall theme muddled and unclear, it’s this exact uncertainty that’s really the heart of this album. Have The Courtneys completely figured things out? No – and that’s okay. Like in any coming of age movie, you wouldn’t expect the main character to have complete knowledge of who they are and where they’ll go in life after the credits roll, just like you wouldn’t expect them to completely abandon their past in the face of new experiences. By listening to The Courtneys II, you get the sense that The Courtneys have done just that by putting forth a more mature record yet not completely leaving the beloved elements of their past work behind. It’s the innocence even in the face of experience, and the fact that that’s a lifelong struggle, that the band has captured so expertly. At what point can anyone honestly say they have it all figured out? Join The Courtneys and slack off and hit the open road to what will surely become a road trip staple for years to come – and you may just find yourself along the way.