Album review: ‘The Only Place’ isn’t the sunniest place for Best Coast
On Best Coast’s second album “The Only Place,” singer-songwriter Bethany Cosentino’s ultra-polished voice gives the power to L.A.-based power pop duo Best Coast, and, stripped of the fuzzy lo-fi quality of their last album, sometimes sounds a little too perfect for a band with a retro California/slacker reputation.
As on 2010′s debut full-length album “Crazy For You,” uncomplicated lyrics about the sun, doing what you want and relationships are delivered with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno’s surf guitars to create a “fuck it, guys, let’s just hang out” attitude. Best Coast are unabashed lovers of the laid-back lifestyle that West Coast living is advertised to provide, although on this year’s “The Only Place,” there is evidence of a little more time, a little more care, and slicker production value from producer Jon Brion as well as an upgraded recording venue, Capitol Records’ Studio B.
Half of “The Only Place” is filled with ’60s-inspired melodies, while the other half is a combination of this and ’90s disaffected girl group rock. The title track is a mid-summer festival party tune and fan letter to the band’s home state, all rapid-fire simple rhymes and beachy layered guitars. It begins the album on a supremely easygoing note, segueing into “Why I Cry” and “My Life,” similarly upbeat expressions of detached girly angst.
The retro fandom begins later, as “How They Want Me To Be” is exemplary of Best Coast’s fondness for doo-wop harmonies, and the chord progressions of “Better Girl” are nostalgic for the first country-and-western crossovers of the ’70s. Cosentino and Bruno seem to approach the sounds they reference with a casual enjoyment rather than a dedicated scholarship, preferring to stick to short syllables and easy warmth that can be coupled with almost any structure.
While “The Only Place” is more technically precise than “Crazy For You,” unfortunately, it doesn’t have the magic of the debut album’s standouts, namely the wistful “Boyfriend” and the rough-but-dreamy “When I’m With You.” At best, “Crazy For You” and fewer parts of “The Only Place” affect a sweet frivolousness; at worst, this style on the new album has been re-branded as puerile laziness, using recycled fills and songwriting that’s gone beyond train of thought into stoners trying to rhyme something with “orange.” These cases include tracks “No One Like You” and “Dreaming My Life Away,” both dully repetitive, as well as the derivative quality of some songs to repeat earlier tracks on the album, albeit at mildly different tempos and with a few subbed lyrics.
The smoothed edges and Cosentino’s edge-of-chanteuse voice sound nice, but “The Only Place” doesn’t come close to getting an A for effort. Best Coast is going to have to try a lot harder than this if they actually want to grow up someday. I realize that this may be the antithesis of their whole deal, but if they’re willing to go this far with their California worship, they would do well to remember that the patron saints of California rock ‘n’ roll got serious about songwriting eventually, and it was this buckling down that still lets them get away with “Kokomo.”