1. "The Only Place"
2. "Why I Cry"
3. "Last Year"
4. "My Life"
5. "No One Like You"
6. "How They Want Me to Be"
7. "Better Girl"
8. "Do You Love Me Like You Used To"
9. "Dreaming My Life Away"
10. "Let's Go Home"
11. "Up All Night"
12. Mean Girls
On May 15, 2012, Best Coast will release their highly anticipated new album The Only Place. This follow-up to 2010’s acclaimed Crazy For You finds the proudly Southern Californian duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno maturing in both their sound and perspective. While Crazy For You was a nostalgic tribute to teenage feelings, The Only Place finds front woman Cosentino starting a transition into adulthood. “I’m trying really hard to grow up,” she says. “I’m trying to let go of my bad habits and the immature things I still drag around with me.” Of course this adjusting comes with uncertainty and self-doubt, two feelings at the emotional center of an album that also features a love song to her home state of California in the title track. All encompassed in the memorable album cover, derived from a 1913 sheet music illustration paying homage to the golden state.
As with all of Best Coast’s previous recordings, on The Only Place Cosentino handles all songwriting, lyrics, vocals and rhythm guitar, while multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno plays lead guitar, bass and drums. What’s new this time is their decision to work with producer and composer Jon Brion. A revered figure in the music world, Brion has collaborated with artists including Fiona Apple and Kanye West and created the scores for such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love. Recorded at Capitol Records’ famed Studio B, The Only Place features a cleaner and richer sound than other Best Coast releases. Many of the songs’ arrangements are detailed with subtle percussion and unexpected instrumentation. Intricate but never overworked, the biggest change from previous releases is how it showcases Cosentino’s voice, this time letting it ring clear, unhidden by distortion and reverb.
Who would have thought that one of the summer’s most bummer albums would come from Best Coast? When Bethany Cosentino’s beach-pop band emerged with 2010’s “Crazy For You,” the only thing keeping her from being the year’s most bright-eyed newcomer was that her eyes were too bloodshot from smoking so much weed. Cosentino’s formula was supremely simple — fuzzy guitars, tales of slacker romance — and the results were sometimes frustratingly naive but mostly endearing.
Apparently, becoming an indie superstar turned fashion designer and Drew Barrymore pal isn’t all fun and sun. (Although those two words make a combined eight appearances on the title track and are used in tandem many more times throughout the album’s 10 other songs.)
Cosentino’s rhyming dictionary remains wholly unsophisticated, and the range of emotions isn’t that much broader, but on “The Only Place,” her sadness is compelling. “You gotta keep me away from what they say about me / Cause I want to be a better girl,” she sings on “Better Girl,” addressing the backlash that turned her from Internet favorite to punch line. On the previous song, she moans, “I don’t want to be how they want me to be” with the conviction of someone who has stayed up until 4 a.m., thinking that lone thought.
That moan is part of what makes “The Only Place” so listenable. Cosentino no longer hides behind distortion and reverb, but her songs happily remain straightforward in both structure and style — sparkling three-minute verse / chorus romps with some well-placed Phil Spector flourishes. But the downtrodden lyrics contradict Cosentino’s newly confident voice, which has been upgraded from pothead whine to Valley girl Patsy Cline. Her singing is clear and purposeful, giving authority to her own discontent.
Cosetino used to sound like all she needed was another joint to keep the buzz going, but when she sings, “I’m still here, I’m still alone / I’m still awake, I’m still afraid” on album closer “Up All Night,” it seems like what she needs most now is a hug.
3/5 Stars - The Guardian:
Californian duo Best Coast's 2010 debut, Crazy for You, mixed sunny pop with fuzzy garage rock to impressive effect. The follow-up picks up where it left off, only with more studio polish, the title track a guilelessly irresistible paean to their home state ("We were born with sun in our teeth and in our hair"), as joyful as it is catchy. Less successful, however, are the ponderous moments when frontwoman Bethany Cosentino dabbles in introspection and the tempo drops, as on No One Like You and Up All Night. There are still moments of magic but it sounds like the work of a band in transition, and not necessarily for the better.
3/5 Stars - Consequence Of Sound:
Two years ago, Bethany Cosentino couldn’t stop singing about her boyfriend. She spinned tales of being alone, mending her broken, obsessed heart, and fighting a hunger for someone that just didn’t want to be there. Throughout 12 summer-ready anthems, she blended youthful melancholia with the afternoon glare of a sun that refused to quit. Each track sounded stripped from the bedroom, as if they were culled from melted demos left on the windowsill of a room that’s seen too many wake and bakes. That’s what made Best Coast’s Crazy for You so invigorating; every listen opened a door into Cosentino’s heart. Lyrically it couldn’t have been more exiguous, but it worked because it felt so real.
But now it’s 2012 and Cosentino’s changed. She’s a little older, she’s met some fine folks (including producer Jon Brion), and she’s seen the world two or three times over. To say she’s just the hazy girl dreaming about the cool boy who got away would be an outright lie. Her universe no longer consists of a bedroom, a spliff, and a lazy cat that loves Seinfeld. Instead, the mythos has lost its curtain, having been debunked through countless tweets, promotions, or invasive Q&A’s. Because of this, she’s not the girl-next-door-who-comes-out-for-the-mail-once-in-awhile, she’s an indie rock sensation, a star plastered on venue walls. Maybe that’s going off on a limb, but hell, she does own her own fashion line.
She’s also well-traveled, and not that she wasn’t before, but that never came across in her music beforehand. Now, with The Only Place, her highly anticipated sophomore effort, Cosentino’s pining less for the boy, but really, that bedroom she once dwelled in. Similar to her debut, she wastes little time screaming these ideas aloud, and on the punchy opening track “The Only Place”, she states, “We were born with sun in our teeth and in our hair,” only to ask rhetorically, “Why would you live anywhere else?” The album’s next ten tracks go on to answer that question again and again.
Or, they attempt to sell you on the idea that Cosentino has changed and grown up. ”I used to wake up in the morning and reach for the bottle and glass,” she laments on “Last Year”, and quickly after on the aptly titled “My Life”, she preaches, “My mom was right, I don’t want to die, I want to live my life.” On the surface, they’re familiar Best Coast-sounding ditties, but there’s something so transparent about them, as if they’re trying too hard to insist upon this personal growth. Granted, this is a staple tenet of any sophomore album; all too often an artist oversells their own expected maturity. Cosentino doesn’t do that, per se, but she also doesn’t leave her mask up much.
Lyrically, The Only Place is as cyclical as Crazy for You, in that Cosentino dwells upon the same themes and gripes again and again. It worked back in 2010 because the lyrics sounded raw, sung from little afterthoughts etched in the back of crumpled receipts, or even better, on the spot. This time around they feel calculated and as a result repetitive. The reason for that, however, goes to its production. With a high-profile name as Jon Brion behind the controls – a guy whose resume includes Fiona Apple, Kanye West, and of Montreal – Cosentino lacks the guarded scruff of the original recordings. It’s still slightly scratchy, but overall it’s far more polished and framed than anything the band’s ever put to record.
That’s not altogether a bad thing. One plus side to having a guy like Brion around is that he’s going to make your instruments sound good, and the band’s never sounded better. For an act that used to sound like sandy 45s on distortion, they’ve now expanded their sound to allow for things to feel lush or, hell, even orchestral. Tracks like “How They Want Me to Be”, “Dreaming My Life Away”, or album closer “Up All Night” work off of atypical Best Coast skeletons, but they’re fleshed out with layers of harmonies, a dollup of simplistic guitar lines, and what sounds like a ghostly xylophone – the latter track even contains strings. No telling what went on in the recording studio, but judging from the production, Brion’s flicked on some switches that weren’t an option two years back.
Still, that shine doesn’t help Cosentino, and it’s actually a detriment to her style. On the tracks that retreat to their original sound – specifically, “Why I Cry”, “Better Girl”, or “Let’s Go Home” – the poppy hooks tire and the lyrics ring expected. To their credit, they sound like Best Coast and they’re catchy songs, but they don’t tug at anything. They sell themes and ideas that have already been explored and, what’s worse, they don’t feel like they’re coming from anywhere. Actually, it’s not even that they sound too polished; it’s more along the lines that they sound too assured, as if Cosentino herself even knows she’s circled these topics once before. How does one grapple sincerity from that?
They have to dig deeper. On album highlight ”Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To”, Cosentino asks, “When did my life stop being so fun?” Such scathing insight threads into her most personal moment on The Only Place, as she cracks open the hotel door to let us in on her current disposition. She’s weary, homesick, and no longer the charming, anti-surfer girl. In a little over three minutes, the troubled songwriter brings everyone up to speed by digging deep into her personal fears (“I wish I could care about someone/The way I used to, when will this be done”) and handing out polaroids of miserable, lonely nights (“I’m always crying on the phone/Because I know that I’ll end up alone”). It’s the album’s crux, everything Cosentino is trying to paddle away from, and yet there’s something so goddamn beautiful about it. She’s a wreck and she’s out of her element, but she’s flesh and blood, and that’s something to love about her. It’s just a shame there’s not enough of it here.
3/4 Stars - Chicago Tribune:
On Best Coast’s 2010 debut, “Crazy for You,” Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno made perfectly fizzy California guitar-pop, catchy as all get-out. Even when Cosentino pined for an elusive boyfriend, it felt almost uplifting, in part because she’s got the kind of strong, transparent voice that recalls the charm and innocence of the best girl-group singers of the ‘60s. She’s yearning for something she can’t have, yes, but it’s nothing a walk on the beach couldn’t cure.
“The Only Place” (Mexican Summer) amps up the production by bringing in Jon Brion, who has worked with Kanye West, Fiona Apple and Spoon, among others. Brion keeps the focus on Cosentino’s sure voice and swooning harmonies. Melody rules, thanks to countless wordless vocal hooks and Bruno’s surf-guitar fills. Excursions into more orchestrated pop evoke the work of Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield (“Up All Night”) and a countrypolitan ballad affirms that Cosentino continues to mature and grow as a singer (“No One Like You”). Cool little touches abound, from the chiming percussion that enhances the dusky “Dreaming My Life Away” to the waltz-time vocal coda in “Last Year.”
The album’s also darker, more melancholy than its predecessor. Besides “The Only Place,” essentially an advertisement for California (“Why would you live anywhere else?”), Cosentino’s narrators spend a lot of time examining how empty their lives are without the boys they covet. Fortunately, she’s got a backbone, too. Over watery guitar and hauntingly beautiful backing harmonies in “How They Want me to Be,” Cosentino explains what she wants most in a partner: somebody who allows her to be herself. It’s the kind of revelation that can redeem an album, if not the difficult passage into adulthood.
3.5/5 Stars - BBC Music:
“I just want to lose that stoner cat girl label and for people to take me more seriously," said Bethany Cosentino recently. Yes, her band's 2010 debut, Crazy for You, won kudos from music critics, cool kids and even Drew Barrymore, who directed one of its videos. But at the same time, the blogworld got preoccupied with its references to weed and mocked one of Cosentino's less than Joni Mitchell-esque lyrics: "I wish my cat could talk."
Cosentino's also admitted that she tired of hearing the term lo-fi attached to her band's indie-meets-girl-group sound. Consequently, she and bandmate Bobb Bruno have recruited Fiona Apple/Kanye West producer Jon Brion to ensure this follow-up is less ramshackle.
Best Coast still sound like Best Coast, but now they're tidier, shinier and looking us right in the eye. The revelation is the vocals. No longer hiding behind harmonies and production fuzz, Cosentino is a strong and confident singer; she attacks No One Like You like a valley girl Patsy Cline.
The album's hat trick of up-tempo cuts are so infectious they recall The Go-Go's, and it's hard not to wish there were a couple more. But most of The Only Place is mid-tempo, introspective and very candid. Written while Cosentino was processing her transition from a shopgirl to indie pin-up, these songs are filled with inertia, confusion, frustration and homesickness. Sample couplet: "I'm always crying on the phone / Because I know that I'll end up alone."
But despite this self-involved subject matter, and Cosentino's strict adherence to the June/moon/spoon school of songwriting, The Only Place never irritates. Thanks to the sweetness of its melodies, the sheer ear candy of its Cali-pop jangle, and the yearning in those vocals, it's less depressing than wistful – like watching the clouds as the sun fades.
Bethany Cosentino is still figuring out who she is – track titles like Better Girl and How They Want Me to Be practically admit as much. But listening to this musically confident and lyrically unflinching second album, it's clear she's no stoner cat girl.
4/5 Stars - Rolling Stone:
Two years ago, Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast was just a chill 23-year-old California girl with a cat named Snacks and a record collection full of teenage kicks from the Shangri-Las to Blink-182. But after the L.A. duo released Crazy for You, a massively catchy set of modern beach pop, it seemed like everyone wanted to hang with Cosentino, whether indie kids taken with her goofy humor or middle-agers impressed by her old-school songwriting chops. Yet the broad appeal that made the album a buzz supernova set up a challenge for the follow-up: How do you talk to so many new friends at once?
Cosentino's solution is to let the world further in on her everyday drama. The Only Place kicks off with the title track, a radiant surf-rock ode to the Golden State, but falls swiftly into the caffeinated complaint "Why I Cry," with Cosentino bemoaning terminal boredom over Bobb Bruno's racing drums, bass and lead guitar. So begins a string of minicrises about judgy friends, bad habits and turbulent relationships – relatable quarter-life bummers, spun into hooks as indelible as Taylor Swift's.
Those melodies ring out with a new clarity thanks to producer Jon Brion, the Bacharach disciple who helped Fiona Apple and Kanye West cut their sweetest-sounding records. Brion sweeps away the debut's low-fi fuzz, while Cosentino dramatically steps up her vocal presence on tunes like the tear-in-your-beer ballad "No One Like You." "Do you love me like you used to?" she wails elsewhere. You bet, Bethany – in fact, we love you even more.
4/5 Stars - NOW Magazine:
The story of the hip lo-fi garage/surf band ditching the fuzz for cleaner sounds has officially become a huge cliché, but we won’t hold it against Best Coast. Bethany Cosentino is growing up, and this album is largely about that process. It might not endear her to some punker-than-thou blogs, but c’mon – she couldn’t keep writing noisy songs about her cat forever. Granted, writing about internet haters instead doesn’t seem like a great idea on paper, but the results are surprisingly engrossing.
Lifting that trademark haze of reverb and distortion wouldn’t work if she weren’t also growing as a songwriter and vocalist, and she is. It’s still just simple major-key 60s bubblegum pop roughed up a bit, but it’s done with an increasingly refined touch. At first listen it seems disposable, but a few days later you haven’t stopped playing it or discovering new layers. A great example of why originality isn’t always essential for greatness.
4/5 Stars - Spin:
The second Best Coast album opens with perhaps the biggest red herring in the history of recorded music. Like the name of the band itself, the title track celebrates the mythical California of sun and fun, as Bethany Cosentino surfs a peppy beat, exclaiming, "Why would you live anywhere else?" amidst bright, jangly guitars. If the state's tourist board hasn't licensed this charming, feel-good song for a promotional campaign yet, it's only a matter of time.
Then everything goes horribly wrong. The sound of The Only Place sticks to what has already become Best Coast's signature recipe — Cosentino's insanely catchy tunes and her sweet, winning voice, shaped by the precise pop-rock embellishments of multi-instrumental sidekick Bobb Bruno. They're rendered more clearly than before, thanks to Jon Brion's undistorted production, but say adios to that happy-go-lucky vibe. In song after song, Cosentino's mood is pure undisguised misery, as she shares not just boyfriend woes, but confronts jealous acquaintances, feels the sting of gossipy haters, worries about money and substance excess, and generally feels like crap. How could Best Coast's early success and rising profile already result in such bitterness and cynicism?
But the existential angst won't come as a shock to veteran observers. While The Only Place is officially Best Coast's second full-length, she's generated another two albums or so of material over the band's brief existence via b-sides, web posts, etc., making it possible to chart the unguarded Cosentino's mercurial state of mind in something close to real time. (Sharp mood swings are a recurring theme.) Last year, she shared a demo for "How They Want Me to Be," offering a memorable glimpse of her dissatisfaction. Cosentino sighs that her friends — and mother! — ask prying questions, even as she agonizes over how strangers view her and chafes against their expectations. On The Only Place, that song is followed by "Do You Love Me Like You Used To," which asks, "When did my life stop being so fun?"; there's also "Last Year," where she admits, "Now I believe in nothing." Clearly, somebody needs a reassuring hug (or to stop reading snarky blogs).
Don't mistake Cosentino's unfiltered candor for drab self-indulgence or whining, though. The Only Place delivers riveting drama in a rousing pop package, with Brion rescuing Best Coast from the fuzzed-out, lo-fi indie template, cleaning up their sound and enhancing the potential for mainstream appeal exponentially without diminishing their artistic credibility. This uncluttered landscape reveals Cosentino to be a deceptively skilled singer with a gift for marrying troubled lyrics to exuberant melodies. Check out the moving "My Life," where she wails, "My mom was right, I don't wanna die, I wanna live my life," as the song soars heavenward.
By attracting the support of a crafty studio technician who's collaborated with idiosyncratic major talents such as Fiona Apple and Kanye West, Best Coast raised the bar, but Brion's willingness to sign on suggested that he saw great potential in the group after 2010's breakthrough debut Crazy for You. And The Only Place confirms his instincts. Cosentino encompasses a startling range of ideas within a seemingly uncomplicated style. Like Fleetwood Mac — she recently covered Stevie Nicks' "Storms" on the BBC — she's expert at wrapping harsh emotions in pretty packages. Like early rock'n'rollers, she understands that simplicity can be the best vehicle for complex sentiments; note the ambivalent love song "No One Like You," a direct descendant of Rosie & the Originals' eerie 1960 teen ballad "Angel Baby." Like old-school country singers, she favors directness, as a terrific cover of Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" showed last year.
And like traditional blues singers, Cosentino seeks to overcome bad times by sharing them with others. When she sings, "I want to be a better girl," you get the feeling that she's looking for a way to escape from a very dark place. If great art is its own reward, The Only Place gives her one real reason to be optimistic.
5/5 Stars - The Boston Phoenix:
It was heartbreaking to see Bethany Cosentino's 2010 full-length debut, Crazy for You, questioned for lacking "overall intelligence." How is it somehow more intelligent in a self-Instagramming world of LOLcats, weed, immature romance, and jobless depression that someone should not write a record about those very things? Those signifiers made it the rare indie totem straightforward enough to draw real sobs: "I'm sorry I lost your favorite T-shirt/I'll buy you a new one/A better one" pleaded one of Cosentino's characters, desperate to salvage the love she's mishandled. The indeed more "mature" The Only Place (better-sung, slower, expansively produced by the canonical Jon Brion) relegates this pain to subtext as she sobers up. "I don't remember what it means to be me," Cosentino sings miserably on "Do You Love Me Like You Used To," following the aptly titled "How They Want Me To Be" and "Better Girl." Now that she sounds capable of leaving the house, it's still refreshing to hear her call herself "dumb." But has her craft ever bloomed. With Brion's help, Cosentino opens up her beachy Phair-goes-girl-group pop with torch lounge ("Dreaming My Life Away"), jangle-punk ("Let's Go Home"), and the uncharacteristically happy title tune, which matches Katy Perry in its unabashed Golden State boosterism. More intelligent, though.