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Best Coast’s “The Only Place” aims for change while staying the same

For months, Bethany Cosentino has been saying that The Best Place, her follow-up to her great 2010 debut, Crazy For You, would be different but the same. Featuring producer Jon Brion and what Cosentino calls “grown up” and “seriously emo” themes—as well as country western influences—The Best Place struggles to find an identity in its brief playtime.

Sophomore albums are infamously tough, and bands can sometimes reach too far for fans (MGMT’s good-but-not-catchy Congratulations) or not far enough for critics (The Strokes, Interpol, every other band from the early 2000s). Cosentino’s beau, Nathan Williams of Wavves, perhaps did the change-up game best, filling his King of the Beach with a bunch of scattershot masterpieces that defied expectations. Cosentino tries the same, kind of, and that hesitancy—which should’ve been evident by her constant need to assure that, even though the album would be adult or western or emo or 70s, it would be the same, but not really, etc—kills the pace of the album and leaves us with a few excellent songs and a bunch of not-quite-there material.

The album opens with two tracks, single “The Only Place” and “Why I Cry,” that could’ve been ripped straight from Crazy For You, and from there the album slowly—slowly—descends into that territory Cosentino wouldn’t stop going on about.

“Last Year,” with its dirty guitars and country groove and lyrics that—for Cosentino—are pretty good (“What a year this day has been/What a day this year has been”), is an early standout and shows promise in the album’s conceit. It even reminds us, if we’d forgotten, that Cosentino can sing, as best seen on “No One Like You,” a pretty fully realized ballad that’s pulled together with Brion’s steel guitar and a killer rhythm section. It’s a shame then that Brion seemed intent on making her sing in ways she shouldn’t have been singing. “How They Want Me To Be” is the worst offender here and finds Cosentino snug in her comfort zone lyrically (“I don’t want to be/How they want me to be”) and completely out of it vocally. Those bad, overworked vocals go on to mar the potentially beautiful “Dreaming My Life Away,” a song that is otherwise a perfect woozy ballad.

The album finishes with two of its best tracks, “Up All Night” and “Let’s Go Home,” a modern take on the Beach Boys’ “In My Room.” “Up All Night,” which closes the album, is the distillation of everything Best Coast does well: tinkly guitars, simple western grooves, lightly beautiful vocals and lyrics that are just sweet enough without being totally saccharine. I mean—there are even strings there. That’s where the album should’ve gone, and, while it’s a flawless closer, it’s also a sign of what the album could’ve been had a little bit more time been taken.

This is definitely a grower, for listeners and Cosentino alike, and, while not as easily digestible or built for summer as Crazy For You, it’s a good sign of what’s to come, and it still gets into your brain easily enough.

Pretty much a 7/10.

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