One thing that is evident on The Only Place, Best Coast‘s second full length album, is Beth’s unabashed love for the Bear Republic. I mean seriously how cute is that→ cover art! (I don’t think Abe Lincoln clutching the Prairie State would evoke the same level of “aww-shucks”, unless it was illustrated by Jay Ryan, aka The Bird Machine.)
All kidding aside… When I first learned that Best Coast was working with Jon Brion for their second album, I couldn’t wait to hear what might come from this curious collaboration. Best Coast’s Crazy For You was a Lo-Fi aficionados dream – a rag-tag collection of fuzzy pop songs about cats and the songwriter’s vices. On the other hand, Jon Brion is known for his penchant for pristine pop gems. In case his name and/or credits are unfamiliar, Jon, apart from being a brilliant songwriter in his own right, has produced some exquisite records including the soundtrack for Magnolia (with all those gorgeous Aimee Mann songs) and Rhett Miller’s The Instigator – both of which continue to be on heavy rotation on my stereo. So from a production value, these guys are the musical equivalent of the Odd Couple. But much like the Norah Jones/Danger Mouse collaboration, strange bedfellows can make beautiful music together.
The Only Place doesn’t depart from the lyrical formula that made Crazy For You so pleasantly brilliant. Beth is still writing about love’s lost, tortured relationships, and her obsessions and obsessiveness – I prefer the term neurosis but this works for now. Also, the basic sound has changed: Best Coast continues to work in the retro 50s/60s girl group/Doo-Wop Redux sound in the vein of She & Him, Cults, and the Raveonettes. But what is markedly different is the polish and expansiveness of their music along with an increased folk and roots rock flavor, even at times with a punk tinge.
From the album’s opening track, “The Only Place” you can already discern the difference: the absence of fuzz and distortion. Instead, what we get is pure unadulterated bouncy surf-pop. Now, this might displease the old fans of Best Coast’s less “manufactured” ways but I suggest refraining from judgment until you let the whole record wash over you. For my money, the album’s finest moment is “How They Want Me To Be”. This song is Best Coast doing what it does best: a song about the trials and tribulations of young love with its sense of isolation and idealism. The narrator bemoans the lack of understanding and acceptance of her family and friends and seeks solace (and salvation?) in the arms of a partner who welcomes her for who she is – the universal dream of “us against the world”. In sum, a brilliant, beautiful, and concise expression of what it feels like to be an outsider and find a “home”. Although the musical maturation is evident throughout the record, it is most notable on “Do You Love Me Like You Used To.” Starting with a uniquely Consentino line “I wake up to the morning sun, when did my life stop being so fun”, the song tells the story of the pains of being a grown up in a languid fashion until it dramatically shifts to a country-infused, up-tempo chorus, imploring the listener to turn the clock back. This song has the Jon Brion imprint all over it. Best Coast even imports some 70s proto-punk guitar riffs evocative of the Ramones mashed up with a subtle alt-country Neko Case gloss on “Let’s Go Home.” The record ends on a throwback sounding (and aptly titled) lullaby (of sorts), “Up All Night“.
But, why take my word for it, listen to The Only Place in its entirety here.
(It may not win you on the first listen, but I think you’ll grow to relish the breezy, sucrose-infused sounds strung together by this LA duo.)
…and on the subject of California, here is another ode to a certain City by the Bay by one of my favorite writers:
from a little alley,