Camper Van Beethoven snuck into a fair number of ears early in their career making music that didn’t make a lot of sense—lyrically or musically. Their 1985 debut Telephone Free Landslide Victory is still a brilliant cluster of Eastern European influence and punk-rock slop sung by a guy who sounded like he could have been an extra in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Subsequent records were slightly less far out and far more produced, but they hung onto the band’s unmistakable quirkiness. Those first five studio albums—released in the four-year span prior to CVB’s decade-long hiatus—are damn-near spotless.
In the years following their breakup, frontman David Lowery, of course, fronted alt-rock band Cracker, which put out a couple of decent and overlooked records itself, but lacked the kooky cool of CVB. When Camper initially got back together in the early aughts, it was only for shows and a terrifically nutty song-for-song re-recording of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Now, after another almost 10-year spell since the release of 2004’s comeback album New Roman Times, the Campers are back at it with La Costa Perdida.
The amalgam of influences CVB employs isn’t quite as jarring as it once was, but Lowery and company still know their way around a smart pop song or two. And they’re best when shrouded in mystery. “Too High For the Love-In” is the most off-kilter tune of the lot (featuring a haunting backing vocal from Ansley Stewart), while “You Got to Roll” creeps slowly along a dark desert road. Jonathan Segel’s violin comes out to play on “Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out” and the bouncy ska of “Peaches In the Summertime,” songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.
Overall La Costa Perdida goes down easy—maybe a little too easy. “Come Down the Coast” and “Northern California Girls” are rootsier numbers that are more Cracker than Camper. And when Lowery gets weirder with his wordplay it sounds a bit forced, like the refrain that closes “Too High For the Love-In” (“Bring to me the anti-venom, and make me a sandwich”). Then again, this is the same guy who once said he dreamt he wanted to lick your knees in a song. Anti-venom and a sandwich, coming right up.