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Album Review: Best Coast - The Only Place

28th May 2012

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Riding on the back of success of other such Californian lo-fi group - such as Wavves, No Age and Rogue Wave to name a few - Best Coast rose to prominence in 2010 with the release of debut album, Crazy for You. The album, a mix of blurry guitar riffs, sunny pop harmonies and cliched lyrics of teenage life, soon found a following amongst the indie youth and hipsters.

Best Coast’s very attraction was the listenability of their songs. This was music built for indie films and summer holidays; an elementary structure, the DIY-sound of 60s garage pop and the infectious vocals of Bethany Cosentino, bellowing out banal thoughts of talking cats and wanting a boyfriend. Simple, yes, but sometimes that all you want from life. 

Yet, despite praise from critics, Cosentino has recently been complaining that she wanted to lose the “stoner cat girl label” as well as the image of Best Coast as simple lo-fi; and to be taken more seriously as a musician. Consequently, the band drafted in Fiona Apple and Magnolia producer Jon Brion, as well as losing ex-Vivian Girls drummer Ali Koehler. Yet, despite these motions for change, Best Coast’s new sophomore effort, titled The Only Place, seems pretty familiar.

Indeed, five seconds into opener and title track ‘The Only Place’, it seems like their has been little changing of the formula that made Crazy for You such a success. With its bouncy upbeat rhythm and catchy hooks, this is a song perfect for the summer. The fact that a map of California adorns the album, much like it did upon predecessor Crazy For You, is no coincidence, as the music oozes the Golden State of sandy beaches, San Francisco and The O.C out of ever pore 

In fact, in many ways, Best Coast is a modern adaptation of The Beach Boys, with its surf rock undertones keen to export the idea of Californians as laid-back and accepting people who do nothing but go to the beach and ‘get stoned’. Cosentino even croons “Why would you live anywhere else?” on the aforementioned track.

Nonetheless, such sunniness is somewhat more lacking amongst the rest of the album as following track ‘Why I Cry’ kicks in and appears like a rain shower come to ruin a hot day. While still possessing the quick tempo and lyrical repetition that lie at Best Coast’s core, the song has a more morose and dour feel to it, speaking of a post-breakup life.

This sentiment is even more apparent on tracks ‘Last Year’ and ‘Better Girl’: the first pulled along by the most garage-like guitar riff; the latter by a more twinkling-based refrain and the plain-spoken vocals of Cosentino. These songs are more mid-tempo than anything found on its predecessor, yet both somehow remain engrossing with their gloomy sunshine feel. These attempts do not always work though as ‘Do You Love Me Like You Used Too’ seems to contain lyrics as developed as a nursery rhyme - “I always cry on the phone/ cause I know I will end up alone” - and a tune about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Worst yet, Best Coat even ventures into ballad-based songs such as ‘No One Like You’ with its simple drum-based backing moves so painfully slowly that it starts to bore halfway through. Such a track loses the very essence of Best Coast - as well as exposes their deepest problems - in that the songs lyrics and structures, which hid behind the cheerful melodies of Crazy for You, are laid bare to scrutiny. Such a risk doesn’t pay off as the song plods along which similarly occurs with ‘Up All Night’ whose country-pop feels more like a song by Taylor Swift.

However, there are moments of pure joy with ‘How They Want Me’ with its backing-vocal “ahh”s and rich harmony making it a brilliant nugget of surf pop. Likewise, ‘Dreaming My Life Away’ does exactly what it says on the tin, with a dream-pop sound in its swirling guitars, chiming percussion and textured drums - but such songs cannot save the overall labouring feel the album gives.

The Only Place is a strange and mixed concoction; an album of garage lo-fi feel with a studio polished production, an album of colourful summery melodies with a slow feel and melancholy lyrics, and an album which is hard to truly like, but difficult to ignore. Yet, fundamentally, Best Coast have failed to improve on their debut album and The Only Place places itself an album ultimately bereft of true new ideas and inspiration. A good album? No. But one that you should listen to this summer (while in your garden enjoying the weather)? Probably. 


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