Best Coast blew up in 2010 alongside other lo-fi Pitchfork favorites like Wavves and Dum Dum Girls with infectious summer-punk, surf pop tracks custom fit for blaring out open sunroofs on coastal roads. They were neither particularly clever nor particularly talented – but that was always part of the plan. Singer Bethany Cosentino’s songs surround lost loves and a newly minted 21st century version of riot grrrl punk that embraces the stereotypically feminine behind overdriven guitars and pounding drums. The question with Best Coast has always been how much of their success is pure hype and shtick, dependent on their contemporaries. The Only Place forces an answer to that question by toning down the lo-fi aesthetic and leaving the moody pop songs uncovered at the center.
The album opens with the single of the same name as Cosentino declares her love – once again – for the “best coast”:
We were born with the sun in our teeth and our hair
When we get bored we like to sit around, sit around and stare
At the mountains, at the birds, at the ocean, at the trees
We have fun, we have fun, we have fun when we please
The band will never hide their roots or their halcyon dreams – it’s in their Californian blood. The production value here is more professional than DIY, giving the album a more confident feel as Consentino feels it less necessary to mask her lyrics behind trends. She lets the pop shine through the punk, embracing what’s always been the core of her music.
But that sword shows its reverse edge when The Only Place reaches for emotionalism. Overwrought and too upfront, the band loses complexity and Cosentino’s ruminations on loneliness sound, ironically, closer to petulant posturing than honest confessions. On “No One Like You“:
If I sleep on the floor, will it make you love me more?
If I pack up my things and leave, can I still be the queen to your king?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
All criticism of vapid trendiness aside, these are lyrics that need style to pull off – and style is exactly what Best Coast traded away when they ditched their lo-fi approach.
The Only Place is a bit of a paradox: sonically, the band has become more straightforward, but it actually makes their songs sound less honest. The same problem plagued Jemina Pearl when she left the brilliant teenage punk band Be Your Own Pet - raw emotional indulgence only feels earnest in certain contexts and with a certain delivery. Outside of that, it can be grating. It’s the narrow line there that Elvis Costello walked so well, earning the right to be punk without being punk (and all the more impressive for it).
That said, Best Coast haven’t done anything on this album that they didn’t do on Crazy for You. Most of the negative feedback to their newest work is nothing more than the shame at realizing that a mere two years ago we were all in love with what amounts to teen pop songs. Even if she lost the aesthetic that gave her credibility, I get the feeling Cosentino is well aware that she’s simply admitting to things we’re too embarrassed to admit to without a little coaxing. And on certain songs here – “Better Girl“, “Why I Cry“, and “Do You Love Me Like Your Used To” – she comes damn close to walking Costello’s line again.