Best Coast’s debut LP, Crazy for You, succeeded more on a charm and an atmosphere than as a matter of novel or complex songwriting. Bethany Cosentino sung of being hung up on boys, getting high, and either hanging with her cat or at the beach. It was all a little trite (and repetitive), but it’s simplicity was its strength. The song were like candy, and even though they had little lasting value, their ethos remained well defined.
Cosentino hasn’t necessarily changed much since then. Nearly every track on The Only Place finds her singing about men or her trouble with them, and we’re still getting lyrics like, “walk around in a haze, seems to be the way I spend my days.” The album opens on the title track, about (surprise) California. It’s warm and you can almost feel the sea air against your face. Like the rest of the album, there’s a weird dichotomy here between Cosentino’s lyrics and the track’s sounds. The song is a straight love letter to California, “Why would you live anywhere else?” Cosentino asks. At the same time, she’s mumbling on Rebecca Black style about how, “we have fun, we have fun, we have fun when we please.” Nothing about it seems disingenuous, which makes it all seem a bit odd. Here we have a woman in her mid twenties blindly chanting about how fun going to the beach is. It’s a little disconcerting.
On the other hand, this very much is what listening to Best Coast is about. It’s pure sugar, and as long as you can accept that for a little while, it’s pretty good. The tone is different than the high summer of Crazy for You, but all that really means is that it might be August now and there’s a bit of shade. Cosentino truly seems to be leading a band here, where on her debut it felt more as though she were making songs only for herself. The Only Place sounds almost like wish fulfillment of leading a girl band. It’s all a little more complicated, but it’s still a little too easy.
The album is at its strongest when it chugs on with its warm surf infused alt tracks. The middle of the album lulls with slower tracks where we find Cosentino singing, “If I sleep on the floor will it make you love me more?” She responds herself, repeating “no” again and again. It sounds a lot like a mantra to repeat in the mirror when you’re crying after a break up. It sounds a bit pathetic, which means emotion gets across, be that good or bad or what she intended. How They Want Me to Be is another slower, almost dreamy piece where we’re lucky enough to hear Cosentino singing about her friends’ point of view, which is a strong and welcomed departure. That said, while these slower tracks aren’t necessarily worse than any of the other tracks, they are the sort of pieces that confused you two decades ago, when you first played a CD that you bought but had only heard the singles from, making you wonder if the band felt obligated to include slower songs. In this case, it detracts from the primary appeal of Best Coast, essentially brief bliss and escapism, which seems to be a lot like Cosentino’s view of the ocean or getting high.
On EMA’s track California she sings about the state, “Now you’ve corrupted us all with your sexuality, tried to tell me love was free… love so much, so real, so fucked… I’m just twenty-two, I don’t mind dying.” It’s a much more complicated view of love and the spirit of California (not to mention songwriting). Hearing Best Coast’s lyrics, “I don’t want to be anywhere else but home,” leaves a lot to be desired. It’s an odd album in its simplicity and blindness, but it’s certainly a good refinement from their debut. The Only Place belongs right beside Crazy for You. That might not be high praise, but we all pick up candy bars from beside the check out counter now and then, and no one is arguing against that.