There’s no denying Bethany Cosentino and her Best Coast multi-instrumentalist cohort Bobb Bruno have indelible knacks for big melodies and melatonin-soaked moods. Cosentino, Bruno and producer extraordinaire Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Punch-Drunk Love soundtrack) can conjure a simple hook on a whim. They support such hooks with sturdy rhythms or semitropical flourishes effortlessly.
There truly is no argument against Best Coast’s abilities to craft catchy tunes like nobody’s business. They do just that once again on The Only Place, but a debate roars over the quality of Best Coast’s songs, and the ammunition on the contentious side of that battle always reverts back to Cosentino’s lyrics. There are bands and songwriters that can craft pop melodies without sounding tweeny. Currently, Cosentino is not one of them. To say her lyrics veer towards adolescence would almost give the verses too much weight. No matter how sunny the atmosphere or skilled the playing, you can only hear variations of “My mom was right. I don’t wanna die. I wanna live my life,” “It’s no fun when I’m always alone…because I want to be a better girl,” and “Can I still be the queen to your king?” before the reflexive eye-rolling and necessity to hit “skip” takes hold.
The album is a bit of a letdown after reading Cosentino’s interview with Pitchfork back in January when she declared the record to be “the first step to the more grown-up me.” The lyrics are by no means extraordinary on the album’s best song (and title song) “The Only Place,” but it has an energy and photosynthetic aura that command your affection. Dare I say “The Only Place” is the rare Best coast song that capitalizes on Cosentino’s lyrics rather than fights in hopes of neutralizing them. “The Only Place” is an ode to an irrefutably glamorous Californian beach lifestyle and unyielding optimism. Southern California drips all over the song, and you have to give Cosentino and Best Coast credit for fitting an entire worldview and climate into an under three-minute summertime anthem.
When Best Coast are at their maximum potential, they capitalize on a Ramones-like energy and combustibility that thrives on elementary lyrics with fun inherent in the very territory they have staked. Their downfall comes from having sipped from that well far too many times over the course of Crazy for You. They try to take a new direction here, steeped in ballads and languid tempos (mostly during the midway stretch of the album,) striving for a mellow day by the water aura in lieu of instead of sweaty summer action in the sun. Unfortunately, when you suck out the blazing guitars and blistering rhythm section, you’re left with Cosentino’s lovely enough voice (in that same Pitchfork interview she said, “I wanted this record to showcase my voice, because in all honesty, that’s what I’m best at”) which sounds truly exquisite on the album closer “Up All Night” and the Mazzy Star homage “No One Like You,” but you’re still stuck trying to mine gold and repeat listens from pixie stick lyrics that grow interchangeable after a handful of songs.
Thanks to Crazy for You, summer of 2010 was all about Best Coast in the indie rock world. The odds are fair that summer 2012 shall follow suit on the strength of The Only Place‘s coastal heartache ballads and sunny pop ditties. It’s just a shame there’s not a filling meal with all the fluffy dessert.
*The Only Place will be available May 15 courtesy of Mexican Summer. You can stream an exclusive first listen until then at npr.org
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