May 1, 2012

Album Review: Best Coast's The Only Place

At face value, Bethany Consentino has everything an artist could need to succeed in the world of music these days. Best Coast's 2010 debut Crazy for You was the type of album that found praise with a critical indie rock mass, broke through with a mainstream audience not quite yet ready to commit their closets to a full line from Urban Outfitters and included enough boy drama to hit the right chord with the iCarly generation. Since then, she's become the pin-up darling for an increasingly commercialized indie subculture by offering her talents to Target campaigns alongside her just-as-cool boyfriend, designing apparel lines, leaving no festival corner unturned and conquering the Twitterverse. None of these glamors seem to have changed Consentino's suburban slacker perspective however, and on Best Coast's self-therapy sophomore LP The Only Place, we get the feeling she's a bit homesick from all the success.

For an anticipated follow-up, The Only Place doesn't sound too concerned with making any huge stylistic strides. Consentino and cohort Bobb Bruno's songwriting only slightly deviates from the simplistic punk pop chord progressions they accentuated on Crazy for You, opting for some subtle hints of country along the way, and while it was recorded at Capital Records' famed Studio B with big league producer Jon Brion (Kanye West, Fiona Apple,) The Only Place is Best Coast's usual fair of sun-soaked guitar pop as ran through a fuzz-extracting filter. Consentino's prognosis of the LP had her saying it would be "emo" and "grown up." She got the latter right in the sense that The Only Place is devoid of all stoner references and doesn't mention her cat, but Bethany's still a young lovesick girl at heart whose knack for writing a decent heartbreaker remains in tact ("Why I Cry," "No One Like You," "Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To.") Addressing her short time inside the music biz is where Consentino begins to show some lyrical maturity. Whether she's searching for a familiar face or place ("The Only Place," "My Life," "Let's Go Home) or trying to keep her composure in the spotlight ("Last Year," "How They Want Me to Be,") the Best Coast frontwoman reluctance to embrace her stardom is telling. Brion's pristine production at least brings a peak of sunlight out of Consentino's sighs, and the clear-as-day mastering makes these mopey cowpunk ballads sound like they were written under a blue sky.

Best Coast seems eager to shed their bratty noise pop skin on The Only Place. While the Cali-loving duo succeed at that with emotive mid-tempo dialogues torn from Bethany Consentino's diary, the real bummer here is how no one track on The Only Place infectiously grabs your attention in the same way Crazy for You's singles "Boyfriend" or "When I'm With You" did, as those self-deprecating standouts proved Consentino and Bruno shine brightest when perfecting a big pop hook. As far as sophomore efforts go, the duo take some obligatory assured steps in smoothing out rough areas with the help of an experienced producer, but getting past success' growing pains will ultimately help the band grow up.

Best Coast's The Only Place will be released May 15, 2012 on Mexican Summer Records.

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