Best Coast | The Only Place (Mexican Summer)

best-coast-the-only-placeWhile a lot of these songs do sound like they could soundtrack ads for Cosentino’s newfound alliance with Urban Outfitters (and the record does sound fashionable), it’s certainly not product.

 

Ushered along the by the gently guiding hand of skewed-pop multi-instrumentalist and production-meister Jon Brion, Best Coast frontwoman/reverb junkie Beth Cosentino has done a remarkable job of stepping out from behind the aural curtains she often obscured herself with. Her songs still overflow with effortless 1960s rock melodies, and her lyrics still strike an endearing balance between plainspoken, honest, heartfelt, and rhyming-dictionary-tastic. But now the tales of lazy days, heartbreak, addiction, distance, and ennui leap forth from your speakers, and are sung in a surprisingly dynamic, mature voice. Who’d have imagined that the woman famous for her extra-enunciated, elongated stoner drawl (rivaling Liam Gallagher for ability to turn single-syllable words into four-beat polysyllabic monsters) could suddenly go full-on Neko/Stevie chanteuse?

It’s those sweeping ballads, many grouped together in the album’s middle, that make for The Only Place’s most arresting tracks. Cosentino’s vocals on the dreamy lament “What They Want Me To Be” and string-tinged album finale “Up All Night” soar, dip, and exude a heretofore hidden sense of power and nuance. “No One Like You” is shot through with pathetic, yet somehow romantic, daring sexy, lines like “If I sleep on the floor/ will it make you love me more/ if I pack up my things and leave/ can I still be the queen to your king?” Combined with a languid, 1950s prom-ready arrangement, the sound is be strangely moving.

It’s not all slow dances and minor key mopes. The disc is front-loaded with four upbeat, often breezy songs, and Best Coast’s innate knack for nailing the “sunshine in your head” vibe is present from the record’s first beat. The title track is a chiming, fuzz-bass-anchored joy —and if they’re smart, the California Tourism council’s irresistible new ad jingle. “Why I Cry” bounds forward with a 12-string jangle, and “My Life” has the wistful harmonics and gentle twang of the earliest country/rock hybrids. Even midtempo “Last Year” doesn’t come off as a dirge, despite its chunky guitars, stuck-on-the-couch pacing, and “la di da di di da di da” choruses. Instead of feeling like a half-baked toss-off, it sounds like the words of inertia-driven listlessness, and flailing-in-the-dark attempts to plug life’s voids.

While a lot of these songs do sound like they could soundtrack ads for Cosentino’s newfound alliance with Urban Outfitters (and the record does sound fashionable), it’s certainly not product. The stylish gloss contrasts with and underscores themes of breakdown and tentative recovery. This is a record equally suited for the beach, “thinking to do” long car drives, and lonely late nights sprawled out on the living room floor, headphones on. It’s also worth heaping praise on Bobb Bruno, the versatile “other half” of Best Coast. His tight drumming and lead guitar keep the music playful, mesh well with Brion’s production, and prevent things from getting too antiseptic.

The Only Place is a conscious decision to ditch a lo-fi aesthetic, but in doing so, it doesn’t completely abandon intangibles that made Crazy for You such a hazy, cool-nerd, slack-matic debut. There are still plenty of themes of boredom, pining, and fleeting good times. Plus, you can still conjure mental images of hangin’ with Snacks the cat (maybe in a brand new designer cat tree?). But these songs feel far less early-20s aimless; rather, reflections of someone a few years older who perhaps has let their head clear a bit. It’s full of sober reflections, along with genuine regrets and thanks, not to mention tunes out the wazoo. It might not change the mind of anyone who’d previously found Best Coast too simplistic, but by merging what worked last time with a dose of incremental growth, it manages to deftly sidestep the second album jinx. B | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Late-’70s Stevie Nicks; The Byrds; the beach; slow dancing; Waxwings; getting clean; a newfound sense of self-confidence

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