Ah, California! The Golden State might be in a financial crisis, but its natural beauty and spirit of possibility is as alive as ever. The music “scene” keeps churning out rock bands just like it did fifty years ago: from Brian Wilson first realizing that pop doesn’t have to be teenage music, to Jim Morrison putting on his first pair of leather pants and the Red Hot Chili Peppers taking everything off but their socks.
Best Coast’s short, second album contains a bright love letter to the Golden State. It’s also thematically similar to so many sophomore albums. Instead of bashing out tunes in front of friends, the band faces the pressures of semi-fame, money and what it means to be a working musician in age when selling a mere 10,000 records can put you in the top 40.
This time around, Snacks the cat1 has been replaced by the “I Love You, California” bear on the record’s cover. But the formula has remained the same. Bethany Cosentino’s axe skills aren’t up to C.C. Deville levels, nor do her lyrics transcend (with some exceptions) beyond the level of particularly depressing madlibs’ books, yet her guitar work and lyrics serve as excellent stanchions for her Patsy Cline meets Evan Dando singing style. She’s has a pleading, smoker’s voice that pushes syllables to match the melody. The Lemonheads are her closet musical companions, all catchy chorus, short songs, and lovelorn or drug filled lyrics with healthy dollops of Country & Western.
Things start off with the best song on the album, the title track “The Only Place.” Its got all the ingredients for the indie summer song: chiming guitars, a sharp hook and a sincere celebration of California’s natural wonders. “Why would you live anywhere else” indeed.
“Why I Cry” has a nice driving beat and some La’s-like guitar melodies. Bethany rhythms “thrills and “pills” with “bills” and “hills.” This juxtaposition is surprisingly effective—a Happy Mondays ecstasy fueled rave this is not.
Another highlight is “How They Want Me to Be.” Bethany pleas “I don’t wanna be, how they want me to be,” accompanied by a dreamy, 50’s star-crossed musical landscape. It has some great strategically dropped snare hits. And enough long “yoooooooous” and “ahhhhass” to start a great doo wop cover band.
Things end with “Up All Night.” She turns the up what sounds like a Danelectro Slap Echo pedal way up (along with some cinematic strings) to underscore the sepia tones of longing for her unnamed lover. Breathtaking stuff.
The Only Place is no great leap forward for Best Coast. In fact it could be argued that it lacks many of the dizzying highlights that made Crazy For You such a remarkable record. But even without those highs, Place is still a remarkably enjoyable record, and one that is definitely deserving of at least a few spins to help you ease into your summer - even if you don't happen to live in California.
1. By the way, I really hope Snacks the cat is okay. Maybe Snacks is too busy modeling for his own stuffed animal, t-shirts or beer cozies! Hopefully the bear didn’t eat Snacks.