16
May
2012
Best Coast: The Only Place
The Only Place
Jordan
Best Coast isn't a band one approaches for the lyrics. Bethany Cosentino is hardly a poet, nor does she really even try to be. Her songs are simple, her rhymes occasionally embarrassing and her subject matter straddles the line between trite and cringe-worthy. No, the draw on the band's debut album, 2010's Crazy For You was the band's sound, a cool mix of lo fi and surf rock that sounded new even as it embodied a retro obsession with early '60s surf pop. I am far from an advocate of lo fi, but the way Best Coast managed to meld the sound into its surf rock sensibility was intriguing enough that Crazy For You got played a fair amount by me during that summer, especially if I happened to be driving along the California coast.

This means I have a problem with the group's sophomore effort The Only Place. Produced by Jon Brion (whose work scoring such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees and Magnolia means he will always be a sort of demigod to me), the album sounds, well, clean. To Brion's credit, he understands that brevity is an asset for Best Coast. But in peeling away many layers of sound and scaling things back, Brion has helped to turn Best Coast from an interesting genre meld into a fairly staid surf rock group. Without the hisses and the dissonance to distract and intrigue, Cosentino's lyrics become more problematic and the melodies, while still solid pop, sound much less distinctive. In short, Best Coast seems to have stripped away the thing that made them interesting in the first place.

This isn't to say that The Only Place is unlistenable, or even particularly bad--simply fairly uninteresting. Cosentino muses about the backlash she has experienced since achieving fame, singing "You gotta keep me away from the things they say about me" on "Better Girl" and becoming the very picture of the put-upon pop star on "How They Want Me To Be." A persecution complex is the last thing Best Coast needs, as even a slight hint of anger tends to undercut the summery vibe and blissful melodies the band is aiming for. When she isn't whining about how people on the internet hate her, Cosentino spends much of the album trying to tackle more mature themes than the "weed, boys, my cat"-centric Crazy For You ever even attempted. In theory, this sort of growth is to be applauded, but in practice, it often feels like she is stretching to leave her wheelhouse when all fans of the band ever wanted was another light beach rock album to kick back with for the summer. "What a day this year has been, what a year this day has been," she muses on "Last Year," an attempt at introspection that falls flat enough that it almost derails the otherwise fairly enjoyable song. She also channels Neko Case on the balladic "No One Like You," and it works better than it has any right to, signaling that perhaps there is a future for this band outside the lo fi/surf rock meld that drew me to them in the first place. That future may exist, but The Only Place is hardly the best argument for it the band could have presented. If its predecessor was reminiscent of the type lazy summer evenings spent lounging on a beach that linger in your memory, then The Only Place is like that time you got a little bit sunburned--it was more annoying than painful, and when it was gone, you never thought about it again.

Grade: C+
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