Originally published on Intersections May 19, 2012.
tl;dr:What happens when you take a bunch of earnest Cali garage-band surfer kids and take them from the beach sand to the studio lights? Things that are less than good.
Worth it: “The Only Place”
Remember when you were sitting on the sun-warmed concrete in front of your friend’s open garage door in a torn tanktop and denim cutoffs, drinking something mango-flavored and feeling the dirt and the grit and the grass and the sand between your tanned toes? Remember how things felt easy, and you made all those crazy plans about quitting school and moving somewhere awesome and dicking around with your friends, the best people in the world — duh — forever and ever? That’s kind of what Best Coast’s 2010 debut, Crazy for You, felt like: careless utopian summer in a bottle, simple and repetitive and perfect. “There’s something about the summer,” Beth Cosentino yearns over and over on “Summer Mood,” and even now that album makes me want to stretch out on the concrete in the nighttime and close my eyes.
But before we all quit our jobs and move to Cali — remember, too, that slow, steady slide into fall, losing touch with friends, long-sleeved shirts, boots instead of flip-flops and trading out your garage-band guitars for your piano-rock and chamber-pop. Those crazy plans sound childish and, at worst, dumb set against autumn light filtered through the yellowing leaves. It’s a transition that’s hard to figure out — it’s one that Cosentino and Bobb Bruno have tried and failed to make.
The Only Place isn’t bad, per se. It’s more awkward than anything. Basically, it appears they went back and listened to Crazy for You, got sadder and more tired, went into a well-lit studio with cloth walls and tiled floors and recorded the album all over again, stripping away the lo-fi that they’ve been so known for and trying so, so hard to play with Rilo Kiley and all the other players from that early 2000s “alt”-rock scene. The problem is that when you remove the grunge and the fuzziness from “Boyfriend,” you get a plaintive, almost annoying girl whining the same words over the same chord progressions for 4 minutes. That’s exactly what’s happened on The Only Place — studio production has removed the mask, so to speak, and what’s under it is just sort of boring and childish. The titular track is the only one that moves restlessly enough to accomplish anything close to Crazy for You‘s energy; it should be noted that it’s immediately followed by “Why I Cry,” a song that literally sounds exactly the same.
The kids at Pretty Much Amazing pointed this out when the album dropped a couple of days ago: Cosentino appears to be shooting for a singer/songwriter, almost alt-country vibe, but in terms of songwriting and lyrical style, the repetition and earnest simplicity that worked so well when set against their restless, fuzzy garage sound falls flat on its face when you bring it inside. (Side note from a girl who grew up in Nashville: country songwriting is in a league completely different from anything Cosentino’s produced. “Alt-country” is generous at best.) That’s really my biggest takeaway from Best Coast’s sophomore effort: it’s flat. It’s slick and clearly produced; it’s muted. It pouts and whines where Crazy for You danced and yearned. I want my lo-fi, beachside Best Coast back: the move indoors may not have been the wisest.