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Stoner Sleepers for the Secretly Straight-Laced,
This review is from: The Only Place (Audio CD)
Weed, boys, breakups, hang outs, dreaming, staying up all night, cats and California. These are the things Bethany Cosentino, the singer / songwriter / guitarist behind Best Coast, sings about on her records. She plays guitar and arranges songs like Liz Phair did when Liz Phair was the coolest woman alive and, these days at least, Cosentino sings an awful lot like Neko Case - if with less twang and howl. And when Cosentino joins up with her single Best Coast cohort, multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, they make very hip music videos, play very hip shows, say very hip things, wear very ironic T-shirts and, in general, personify the fake-glasses-wearing portion of today's youth generation (you know: aloof, stoned, insincere, jaded, contrarian and ... well ... largely happy).
For their much anticipated second record, titled The Only Place (a nod to Cali, notch), Best Coast have tapped indie super producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Of Montreal, etc.) to help out with all-things-studio related. And while Brion's history would imply that the sound we heard on 2010's incredibly listenable Crazy For You would be here blown up into something more elaborate, that's not the case. Sure, there are some strings on tracks like "My Life" and all the vocals and guitars are now perfectly recorded. But, if anything, the sound of The Only Place is maybe even more lean than that of Crazy. The slight garage growl appeal is mostly gone, but the surf pop moods still hold strong, as does the low-key indie rockiness.
My first reaction after hearing The Only Place was "Dang, that was obvious. Not in a bad way, but not really in a fun way, either. I thought I was going to be getting smashed on the porch and playing this record over and over again all summer, but it's not that kind of record. It's more of a drink-tea-and-doodle sort of record." So no, I was not immediately blown away. The record's mellow immediacy didn't turn me off, nor did the slight sonic shift or added twang and maturity. The disc just felt too easy - too obvious and digestible. Over a few weeks I came to know the songs better, most of which I like quite a bit in a Neko Case Doing Demos sort of way. Opener "The Only Place," for example, is a damn good pop song about how great the Best Coasters think California is. An anthem, even. "Better Girl," too, feels like a small college radio hit, reminding me very much of some of my favorite female singer / songwriters from the mid-90s.
Mostly, The Only Place reminds me of a time back in the early Naughts, when Julian Casablancas and The Strokes were trying to follow up their classic debut. Jules and his Strokes had worked their whole lives on that great first collection of songs, and were almost instantly expected to follow it up with another flawless batch. The result was - like The Only Place - some quickly written, arranged and recorded tunes that, while good, couldn't touch the debut. And while some might beg that Brion helped Best Coast avoid this classic hurried misstep with his guidance and songcraft expertise, Cosentino is now right where The Strokes were when they released Room on Fire in 2003. She's got a classic debut under her belt and now a sophomore record that is a pleasant, if unremarkable, continuation of the spark.
Will the album's many charms continue to rise to the surface in a Pinkerton sort of way? Will The Only Place have a legacy of its own come this time next summer? Probably not. But dang, I can't call this collection of girly tuneage a wash, either. The Only Place is a mellow, minor listen that fans of Crazy For You will almost certainly find enjoyable - if only in time. A lazy summer record for the girls and boys of the jaded skin art gen. Stoner sleepers for the secretly straight-laced.
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