Best Coast’s sunkissed surf pop is the definition of deckchair music. Daydreams of reclining back on a breezy summer’s day on a beach, blue skies above and cooler full of Corona within arm’s reach. This is the kind of imagery that was brought about from listening to their debut album: lo-fi assortments of ear candy that introduced the world to Bethany Cosentino and her brand of fuzzy garage rock, wistfully crooning about nostalgia and heartbreak to joyful effect. Accompanied by drummer Bobb Bruno and faithful feline sidekick Snacks, Bethany’s worrisome yet catchy melodies about love and uncertainty propelled Crazy For You to critical applause and cult appreciation, hence the slight fervor for the sophomore LP whose release could not have been timed better for the seasonal joie de vivre ahead.
Kicking off with an opening titular track that serves as an ode to The Golden State, The Only Place picks up where its predecessor left off, revisiting the angsty themes that the stoner slackerette had covered about two years ago. But with an audible adjustment.
The scratchy sound that became Best Coast’s trademark have been smoothed out into a sonically sharper experience, showing off Bethany’s impressive vocals in crystal clear form. The transition from Crazy For You’s teenage kicks to their latest effort’s polished melodrama is effortlessly helmed by renowned composer Jon Brion, famed for his moody score on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and helped Kanye beat the sophomore jinx with the Louis Vuitton Don’s sweetest sounding album to this day. However, the cinematic, orchestral tones that have become Brian’s hallmark are few and far between on The Only Place as he sweeps clean the lo-fi fuzz from two years prior and gives free reign for Beth C to confidently sing in a candid manner about the tribulations of fame in the uptempo ‘Why I Cry’ to yearning for that special someone in heartbreak ballad ‘Up All Night’.
While The Only Place is a discernible departure from Best Coast’s previous audio, their themes have not changed one iota on a lyrical level, doing little to harm Bethany’s standing as a highly listenable songwriter despite the oh-so-simplicity of her final drafts. Standout track ‘How They Want Me to Be’ explores the constant doubt of self-identity amid newfound fortune and judgmental friends (and possibly a cloud of smoke emanating from Cali kush), while on ‘Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To’, she sings: ‘I wake up to the morning sun/When did my life stop being so fun?’ – simple poetry over fast-paced guitars and rhythmic Bobb Bruno drums. But, despite the auditory evolution of Best Coast’s second offering, the lo-fi fuzz that encapsulated Crazy For You is clearly missed on this record, having blown up on the blogosphere and beyond due to their niche sound back in 2010. Introspective ambiguity may reign heavy on Bethany’s songscribbling thematics, along with homages to her home state California, but it was that overdriven fuzz which made Best Coast’s unique brand of two-minute garage rock, mixed with chillwave vibes, a key part of the band’s identity.
Nonetheless, Best Coast, with Brion’s input, have managed to construct a cohesive LP with a clearer sound that, in spite of my initial preference for their first album, could become a grower in the weeks to come. The melodies remain sweet, and relatable tales of woe and quarter-life crises retain their familiarity with their loyal fanbase, dismissing any chance of one being dissatisfied with The Only Place even after multiple listens. A return to youthful lo-fi surf pop for their next LP will be a welcome treat, but a more mature Bethany and co. will have to do for now. 7/10.