“What is life?” asks Bethany Cosentino on “So Unaware.” For real, girl? Existential inquiry is an unexpected avenue for a songwriter who made her name with 2009’s “Sun Was High (So Was I)” and other beachy anthems about battling romantic blues with garage-pop melodies and bubblegum kush. On her band’s third album, it seems that coping mechanism isn’t working so well anymore. Her solution? Double down on hooks, harmonies and wall-of-sound effects; own your darkness; power through.
It mostly works. “Fine Without You” and “In My Eyes” layer Cosentino’s voice into a mighty punk-pop army that sounds a little like the cheerleaders from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video formed a glee club. On “Sleep Won’t Ever Come,” girl-group doo-wop vocals bring insomnia to vivid life over bandmate Bobb Bruno’s heat-mirage guitar. “Heaven Sent” is a spectacular cyborg-anime update of the Go-Go’s. Except for the unusual title track – an extended dream-pop reverie about wanting to get lower, not higher – there’s a sugar-crusted sameness to the songs that can occasionally wear thin. But as with Best Coast’s beloved Ramones, you could also call it consistency. Either way, it’s a pretty glorious sound. California Nights ends with “Wasted Time” and the refrain “Just wish that I had something to show for it.” This album is evidence that Cosentino does.