REVIEW: Best Coast – The Only PlacePosted: May 14, 2012
Surf pop is a genre that had a very potent revival a couple of years back, with bands like Surfer Blood, Tennis and, coincidentally, Best Coast all putting out albums that embodied the spirit of the music first brought about primarily by The Beach Boys, bringing it into the 21st century. There seemed to be a very specific moment when this happened, and an outburst of similar styles polluted the airwaves and built up a very memorable playlist for the summer of twenty-ten.
Best Coast are now back, with sun-soaked second full-length LP ‘The Only Place‘. Comprising of cat-loving vocalist and guitarist, Beth Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, the band’s follow-up to ‘Crazy For You‘ has been a highlight of this summer’s release calendar for quite a few people.
The thing that hits you instantly about their second LP is the change in sound quality and production. The hazy mist that cloaked the vocals and guitar has been lifted from this album to reveal a clearer, more confident sound. For fans of the older style, it might come as a surprise, but on the whole, it benefits the music and makes it feel more direct and personal than the previous effort. It’s obvious that Cosentino wants to distance herself somewhat from the debut, with her recently saying “We wanted to make this record a bit more serious, so we put a bear instead of a cat on the cover.” Fair reasoning, I guess, but it’s clear the duo’s transition into high fidelity has benefited the music greatly.
A major improvement of having the fuzzy production banished from the album is the fact that Cosentino has been given the opportunity to show off exactly how strong her vocal performances can be. She tackles all of the songs with very self-confident tone that was less apparent on the debut, and it pays off considerably overall.
‘The Only Place‘, much like the debut, is a short and sweet collection of simple songs with subtle charms and naivety. Best Coast‘s laidback approach is a somewhat love-it-or-hate-it scenario – one argument being that the songs lack any kind of depth or sophistication needed to stand out on their own, and the other being that it’s exactly that which draws people towards Cosentino‘s musings. The band’s more grown-up sound on this album has me siding with the latter viewpoint, for the most part.
Lyrically, the second LP treads similar ground to the first – relationships, homesickness, trials and tribulations – but this time there’s more moments of self-reflection. Title track ‘The Only Place‘ is a bona fide summer jam – an up-beat ode to the fair state they hail from. It’s tracks like these where Best Coast are in their element, but it’s when things stride towards the more sullen end of the spectrum that the chinks in the band’s armour appear. Moments on the album like ‘Who They Want Me To Be‘ take a slower approach, but these moments lack the punch or flippancy of the more immediately gratifying tracks.
One of the most disappointing things about ‘The Only Place’ is the distinct sense of repetition throughout that’s hard to avoid. Select songs start with almost exactly the same chord progressions and it just comes across as lazy (eg. ‘The Only Place’ and ‘Let’s Go Home’). Not only in the music, but repetition prevails throughout the lyrics, as well. “We have fun, we have fun, we have fun when we please” announces Cosentino on the title track, while ‘Up All Night‘ has her proclaiming “I wanna see you, I wanna see you, I wanna see you, forever and ever, forever and ever…zzzzzzzz”. This reliance on repeating lines, phrases and words over and over works for some musicians, but here it just adds to the sense of monotony.
The transition that the pair have gone through to shed the image created by the debut has bought with it a bag full of pros along with some downfalls. There’s still an undeniable charm to the band – the sun-drenched pop, the jangly guitar hooks and the simplistic yearnings of Cosentino all add up to something ultimately enjoyable and engaging. The upbeat moments on the album are a treat and will no doubt be a part of any summer playlist again this year, but things tend to drag when the tempo lowers. Considering that the album is only 37 minutes long, that’s kinda concerning. Fans of the first album might feel alienated by the lack of fuzz (it’s really not that big of a deal), but it’s still a pleasure to listen to.