The Only Place – Best Coast

The Only Place

Best Coast

2012

Wichita Recordings

It is a popular theory that sophomore albums are the most difficult to create and to have well-received.  This concept abounds for numerous reasons – if a band stays too similar to their previous album, detractors will say they haven’t evolved.  If the sound changes too much, the artists risk losing fans of their original sound.  Sometimes, it’s just as simple as the songs on the second album had to have been written in a lesser amount of time than those on debut albums.  So, often, Sophomore efforts end up as being inferior to first releases. And unfortunately, Best Coast’s The Only Place falls into this category.

It’s a shame really that indie darling Bethany Cosentino’s and her band-cohort Bobb Bruno’s new album didn’t turn out as well as their first.  Sonically, the music is all there.  The production value is high, thanks to genius-producer Jon Brion, which contrasts their lo-fi sound of Best Coast’s first effort, Crazy for You.  Fans of Brion can pick out his nearly-subliminal touches to The Only Place; his additions of 12-string guitar, lap steel, and keyboards add small layers to the songs bringing them into a whole new stratosphere of musical direction.

The band uses its influences in many of the songs, which allows Best Coast to utilize what they know.  You’ve got slightly distorted guitars crunching in the background (see “Why I Cry”), borrowed from early 90’s rockers like Pavement, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr.  That sound is combined with the California-pop sound, snatched from 1970’s am radio (fellow West Coast musicians She & Him offer the sunnier side of this indie genre).  Lastly, the focus of the sound-scape that is the Brion-produced The Only Place is Cosentino’s vocals.  And why shouldn’t they be right in the center?  Her voice is a doppelgänger for Neko Case’s country-noir vocal stylings.

Seriously, she’s one move to Canada away from joining The New Pornographers.

However, having Cosentino’s vocals be the center of attention means that her lyrics will be called to do much more work as well.  With Crazy for You, her easy, cliché-ridden lyrics worked; their lo-fi sound was perfect for “home/phone” and “rise/eyes” rhymes and, well, that debut album was just so damn earnest and charming.  This time around, however, the lyrics just don’t cut it.  It could be that Best Coast is no longer a lo-fi outfit.  More likely, it’s that The Only Place struggles to mature, and any time it does, it only gets pulled down into safer comfort-zones.  Take “My Life,” for instance — Cosentino sings “My mom was right / I don’t want to die,” a sophisticated, morbid thought (especially for surfer-rock music) which only gets rebuffed by the following commonplace “I want to live my life.”  At other times, Cosentino sounds as if she is only defined by her desire to be in a relationship: “Been around this crazy world / But I still want to be your girl.”  The same lyrical themes as the first album no longer sound endearing; instead they sound vaguely pathetic in their attempts to succeed for a second time.

Still, that isn’t to say that this album is a horrible one.  It’s definitely worth a listen or two because Brion’s production is great (as always), and Cosentino’s melodies are soaringly catchy.  But, that’s all there is to The Only Place.  It’s an album that’s all surface, created by a band that sounds as if it’s struggling to evolve and mature.  The title track may sound as if it’s a commercial for California tourism, but that doesn’t mean one has to reside in the same state of development forever.

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3 Responses to “The Only Place – Best Coast”

  1. Granted Best Coast’s sound can be kind of limited, but when it comes to welcoming summer, there’s nothing like listening to one of their tracks. They’ve captured an effective sonic representation of California that works well with their ode-to-California lyrics.

    I featured “The Only Place” in a recent post…. http://icanseebetterthroughthefog.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/viaje-a-la-luna/

    • Oh, I definitely agree — they really have a great Summertime feel to them, and honestly, I really enjoy listening to Best Coast. My main fault with the album is that I find the lyrics too easy. However, when I’m in the mood, nothing beats Best Coast.

  2. […] mentioned numerous times before, but I get a huge nerd-boner for anything that has to do with Jon Brion.  As both a […]

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