Coastwest Unrest is a Las Vegas-based duo who have been making country-tinged tunes since 2009, when they released Songs from the Desert. The three releases that followed and led up to their most recent work, Black Desert Sweet Mojave, were more lush, and at times slightly punk. The two have stripped down their sound for Black Desert Sweet Mojave, favoring just drums, bass and guitar. While the fiddles are gone, Coastwest Unrest has not abandoned their roots in order to create a poppier record.
These songs are more polished than the ones in their past, although there is still a Minutemen-esque hecticness that pokes through on some of the tracks. Coastwest Unrest’s unorthodox approach to the country genre comes from the instrumentation on the album. There are classic country moments that come from twangy slide fills and Neil Young-inspired acoustic guitar. The album is interesting for lead singer Noah Dickie’s frantic guitar work that lends itself to punk and ska, and drumming that moves away from the country genres by including such aspects as a double bass drum. The vocals on the album are not at the forefront of their music and Dickie avoids singing with a country accent; instead he evokes the National’s Matt Berninger’s timbre, his voice sitting comfortably underneath the music.
At its core, Black Desert Sweet Mojave is a pop-country album, flawed by its attempt to be catchy. There are instances where lyrically Dickie is strong, but others where he falls into cliché; it seems to happen most on the poppier tracks. No doubt these songs have addictive qualities, but they can at times be unoriginal. The uniqueness of this album is the combination of country pop moments with the aforementioned spurts of originality. Coastwest Unrest would make a stronger album had the pop aspects been more inspired. Still, the duo has put together a solid and diverse collection of desert-themed songs worthy of a road trip.