With the weather outside getting warmer, what better time for a new Best Coast album? The Only Place, the group’s second full-length for Mexican Summer, still finds Bethany Cosentino singing lovelorn songs about boys, her cat and the beach over Bobb Bruno’s sun-drenched guitars, but the duo has made a few small tweaks to its sound that work, for the most part.
Through non-stop touring, Cosentino has expanded her range and improved considerably as a vocalist, sounding like a less raspy version of her “fashion icon” Stevie Nicks on a few songs. Her stronger vocal prowess is apparent from the onset of the opening title track. The song itself is a love letter to the duo’s home state of California and sets the tone for the album perfectly. Lines like “We’ve got the ocean / Got the babes / We’ve got the sun / We’ve got the waves” immediately put you in the summery state of mind that is the band’s motif.
The Only Place is not a radical reinvention of the Best Coast sound by any means, but the band does manage to stretch its legs a bit. “Last Year” features more muscular guitars than the group typically employs and has a bit of a grungy vibe. The stop-start rhythms of mid-album highlight “Do You Love Me Like You Used To?” allow Cosentino’s vocals to take center stage. It’s the kind of song that could dominate radio if given the right push. Several tracks showcase a light country tinge that we haven’t heard from the duo before, and “Better Girl” features a bluesy guitar lick that is more than a little similar to the Gaslight Anthem’s “The Diamond Street Church Choir.”
The most immediately noticeable difference between Best Coast 2012 and the band who gave us Crazy for You is a pretty substantial leap up in production values, courtesy of Mr. Jon Brion. Famed for his work with acts like Fiona Apple and Kanye West, in addition to scoring films like Magnolia and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Brion was an interesting choice to twist the knobs, and he gives the group a sheen not heard on prior releases. This upgrade in production values may be a bit of a blessing and a curse for the band, however. While the songs are now more distinguishable from one another, the lo-fi charm of their earlier works is what endeared a lot of listeners to the band, and with that gone, The Only Place is a pretty straightforward pop rock album.
Best Coast has avoided the sophomore slump with The Only Place. They’ve stuck with what they do best while trying their hand at a few experiments here and there. Anyone who was a fan of Best Coast’s music in the past, and not just their lo-fi haze, should enjoy The Only Place.