Best Coast Best CoastThe Only Place
The girl who named her first album “Crazy For You” and whose best song was simply titled “Boyfriend”, wants to grow up on her second, “The Only Place”; leaving the teen in her behind to become a woman. In order to achieve this, Best Coast called upon Jon Brion, producer of scores for indie films like “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” and “Magnolia”, alongside artists such as of Montreal and Fiona Apple. While his influence is instantly recognisable, he always stays in the background. Not too many will instantly remember those soundtracks, no matter how good they are, and on “False Priest” he explored the most danceable side of Kevin Barnes' band, without altering their sound. On this album, he hasn't introduced any new and complex instrumentation, but just made it sound cleaner; getting rid of the lo-fi aesthetic of Bethany Cosentino’s earlier recordings. This may be a good thing for some - as, objectively, the songs sound better, more elaborate - but others will feel that the California band's main characteristic has disappeared.
Lyrically, the album is far from showing that maturity promised in the promo text. On the title track, Cosentino shows she's still writing about the same things as ever. Opening with “We were born with sun in our teeth and in our hair / When we get bored, we like to sit around, sit around and stare”, and later talking about what a good time she's having and that California is the only place she wants to be (repeated on “Let’s Go Home” as well). On “Last Year”, she sings about sentimental breakups, once again a central theme on the album. Submissively, Beth sings on “No One Like You” that, no matter what games her better half (we suppose this means Nathan Williams from Wavves) plays, there is nobody like him. On “How They Want Me To Be”, her non-conformist attitude is shown from the viewpoint of a 15-year old girl rather than that of an adult woman, before things become really mushy on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To”, with phrases like “ When did my life stopped being so fun?” and “I’m always crying on the phone / Because you know that I’ll end up alone”. The only moment when some kind of maturity shines at the horizon, and only faintly at that, is on the nostalgic “My Life”, which is about the mistakes she made in her life ( “To go back in time / Make what’s wrong feel right”). I get that all this is a nod to the music of the 50s and 60s which she loves so much, but she could have made more of an effort for her second album, especially when she promised what she promised.
Once it's established that things haven't changed all too much, we'll take a look at her choice of Jon Brion as the man at the helm. The best way to go about that is to recover the original version of the splendid “Up All Night”, included on a split single with Jeans Wilder and released by Atelier Ciseaux in 2010, months before Best Coast rose to fame. That track might be the most lo-fi one the Californians have ever released, with Cosentino's voice lost in an ocean of reverb. But two years later, playing that tune is a one-way trip to heaven. The crystalline guitar strokes caress, the drums set the pace almost untraceably, and some castanet sounds are added to subtly adorn the piece. With all the elements sounding clearly and without distortion, we can finally appreciate the Californian's talent as a singer.
The changes are also notable stylistically. A quick listen at “The Only Place” could lead to the mistaken conclusion that it could have been part of “Crazy For You”; but it's actually surf-pop with slight touches of country. Ditto for “Better Girl”. The changes are pronounced enough for anyone to notice, but not so radical that the band loses their identity. Cosentino and Bobb Bruno slow things down quite a bit, and some might miss the instant hits of their debut, but with precious tracks like “How They Want Me To Be”, that lack is easily forgettable. The album's big virtue is the successful invocation of Buddy Holly and other greats of the era, in a similar vein to the recent work from Cults and She & Him. All in all, there are some insipid moments - like the aforementioned “Better Girl”, “My Life” (which is only saved by the interesting addition of violins), and the wasted “Do You Love Me Like You Used To”. All this makes for a bittersweet feeling after hearing the album. Though Brion's production is something to take one's hat off to, there is a slight feeling of failure. They could have done better. They've lost a big part of their feel for instant anthems, in favour of the exploration of some new sounds that aren't always as effective as they should be.