In 2010 Bethany Cosentino won over the ears of… well, damn near everyone and their mother, with her band Best Coast’s debut, Crazy For You—without really trying. It was an album that was as endearing in its candor as it was in its simple and summery pop constructions. Simply put: Cosentino was far from reinventing the verse-chorus-verse, but she did manage to give by-the-numbers fuzz pop a welcome jolt.
How to follow it up? Do what comes naturally, of course. On The Only Place, Cosentino sticks with what she knows—matters of the heart, self-doubt and, of course, her native California, the latter of which is emblazoned on the album cover with the subtlety of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake. It’s pure California pop that owes as much to the state as it does practitioners like the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac.
While Crazy For You sounded like fog rolling in over the bay with its reverb-heavy production, The Only Place effectively burns it off, even when Cosentino’s dear-diary lyrics are at their gloomiest. A lot of that has to do with producer Jon Brion, who’s manned the boards for the likes of Fiona Apple and Kanye West. Guitars are livelier and more textured (with more acoustic strums), and the percussion crackles, giving the record the sound of being in the room with Cosentino and her multi-instrumentalist bandmate Bobb Bruno.
The Only Place is also a step forward lyrically, albeit a small one. While Cosentino was never known for being a wordsmith, she more than made up for it with earnestness. That hasn’t changed. However, this time around it’s less about her cat, Snacks, and smoking weed, and more about processing her newfound popularity and her own growing pains over the past two years. In “Let’s Go Home” Cosentino longs for the personal space that inevitably gets relinquished with life on the road. And the strummy acoustic “My Life” deals with regret in the simplest of terms: “When I go on airplanes, I listen to your voice / And when I go to sleep at night, I’m wishing for a choice to go back in time make what’s wrong feel right.”
Those plain-spoken lyrics are made all the more sincere by Cosentino’s pure and unaffected delivery, which brings to mind the similarly sweet voices of Neko Case, Jenny Lewis and Barbara Manning—strong women who seem to be better at making sense of the world in front of a captive audience.
One can pretty easily sniff out an artist that’s simply going through the motions; it’s one thing Cosentino could never be accused of—at least in this early stage of her career. That bodes well for Best Coast’s longevity, which is saying something considering we live in an age where flavor-of-the-month bands run rampant through the blogosphere. There is something timeless about Best Coast. Here’s hoping Cosentino doesn’t grow tired of California.