Best Coast – The Only Place
Best Coast’s frontwoman Bethany Cosentino doesn’t want to move. The title track opener of second full-length The Only Place reads like the snottiest travel advert for California you’ve ever stumbled upon. Remember that one Arnie did back in the golden age of the Governator? That’s got nothing on this.
So on the new Best Coast record Jon Brion produces, the garage rock bite in the guitars is dropped and some of the extra fuzz swept up, the lyrics introduce a little more doubt and worry than the last one, and I don’t think it contains a single instance that crazy is rhymed with lazy.
Not to sound like the worst kind of indie elitist but I really loved the early Best Coast singles and EPs, and they put on a solid gig in Manchester a couple of years ago before Crazy for You came out. This would be back in 2010 when we were all coming down from the 60s girl-group revival sugar rush. Since then the Vivian Girls put out a relatively dull third album, Dum Dum Girls evolved and hung fresh meat from their sensitive bones, and Frankie Rose forgot the whole thing and released this year’s minimal, spacey and slightly sterile Interstellar. Oh and Cults released a record last year and everyone in the world went into a diabetic coma and there was no more music after that because everyone was unconscious.
The Only Place offers little to deal with the problems that arose when Best Coast jumped from the EPs to the full-length album – the quaintness of the songwriting is less interesting in the cold light of day and the subject matter, though universal in its simplicity, doesn’t spark anything through its stripped down frankness. And the new album’s attempts at sad and sombre come across vague and gormless rather than touching. It would be great if the assumed naïvety of Best Coast lead to unpretentious and direct music, but for a relatively brief album it feels long. It wants to be simple but has to settle for shallow.
On the bright side there are a handful of pleasant, if familiar, melodies strewn about the place, like the verses to ‘Last Year’, despite the lyrics, or ‘Dreaming My Life Away’ with its sleepy and vaguely exotic guitars, percussion and glockenspiel.
Crazy for You was already suffering from a lot of the aforementioned faults of The Only Place but a handful of the melodies worked well enough to raise the album from vacuous mediocrity . Listening to that album again for this review made me think how garagey it sounds compared to this one. It’s not that clean sounds are bad it’s just that lo-fi was the perfect cradle for Best Coast’s songs, and as the production improved the songwriting didn’t, an issue to which the brighter recording quality draws attention. It shouldn’t be the case that the flat recordings of the Make You Mine EP have more depth in sound and emotion than the professionally recorded albums. To address a criticism often leveled at lo-fi bands it turns out that the grungier elements of Best Coast were the least superficial and gimmicky aspect, and unfortunately it appears that the brighter that West Coast sun gets the less everything glitters.