Monday, January 26, 2015

The Only Place - Best Coast

The Only Place
Best Coast
Mexican Summer  MEX 109

I'm trying to be less of a snob about popular music.  In the past I have reacted negatively when bands I liked became hugely popular.  Best Coast haven't reached that stage yet, but they certainly have the potential.  Last time I saw them live was at the Wiltern where my wife and I found ourselves surrounded by teenage girls.  During a blistering set by Jeff the Brotherhood they played with their phones and impatiently whined that they wanted Beth.  When Best Coast hit the stage they squealed and screamed with glee and sang along with most of the songs.  I'm used to feeling at old at shows, but this time I felt like Methuselah.  I don't think Bethany Cosentino aspires to be Gwen Stefani or Taylor Swift, she seems too insecure for that.  However her music is unusually accessible by indie rock standards.  Her tunes are poppy and full of hooks and her lyrics seem old-fashioned in their focus on boys and her eagerness to please, more 60s girl group than Echo Park hipster in their content and style.  I know some of the cool kids criticized her debut album, "Crazy For You," for this as well as her alleged lack of a feminist perspective, but I don't have a problem with it.  Of course I'm old and hung up on the 1960s when most songs were like this.  I love "The Only Place" which is the opening track on Best Coast's second album and it was the one that made it to the radio.  It is a paean to Southern California befitting the group's name.  It is mercifully free of the heavy reverb and over-production that I felt marred "Crazy For You."  It is the indie rock version of sunshine pop with its jangly guitars, propulsive beat and shimmering vocal.  The lyrics come right out of the Beach Boys playbook praising the sun, the beach, the waves and "the babes."  The song is inane but being a native Californian it appeals to me anyway.  If I lived in another state I might be inclined to point out the shallowness of her view of the good life and note that she ignores the traffic, pollution, narcissism and selfishness that make Southern California less than the paradise she describes.  "Why I Cry" is a more sophisticated song lyrically.  It is both a portrait of ennui and a lack of understanding in a relationship.  The music is slick garage band style rock with a lot of pop hooks.  "Last Year" sounds autobiographical to me, a description of the alienation and confusion she is experiencing in her life as a budding young rock star.  I find her words compelling and the music is slower and heavier reflecting the gloomy outlook of the song.  "My Life" seems to be about repairing a broken relationship but I think it is also about trying to restore some order and direction in her life.  "No One Like You" sounds like the songs on "Crazy For You."  It is decidedly retro in its sound with a tune that could have come out of the early 1960s.  The lyrics express her wish for her boyfriend to love her more.  With a few cosmetic changes it would fit comfortably on a Shangri-Las or Angels album.  The similarly retro "How They Want Me to Be" could be a Dusty Springfield song.  It may be answering her critics as she emphasizes wanting to be how she wants to be rather than how others want her to be.  Side two opens with the bouncy "Better Girl."  The cheerful music is in contrast to the lyrics which emphasize self-improvement with references to depression, substance abuse and loneliness as well as some more references to her critics.  "Do You Love Me Like You Used To" is the sort of song her critics carp about, a plaintive song that blames herself for her relationship problems and which expresses her fear of being alone.  The tune is slightly retro pop but with some muscle that contradicts the weakness expressed by the lyrics.  "Dreaming My Life Away" is a slow, sweet pop song with an appropriately dreamy feel to it.  Its best element is Cosentino's expressive vocal.  "Let's Go Home" is a fast-paced poppy song that gets me bopping, one of my favorite tracks.  Although throughout the album she has been complaining about being withdrawn and not going out, this song is an invitation to stay home and cocoon.  The album concludes with "Up All Night" which is another slow song with classic pop elements in its sound.  The song laments the breakdown of a relationship and her yearning to be with her ex-boyfriend.  The song's rich, dreamy sound and Cosentino's emotional vocal make it a powerful and satisfying conclusion to the record.  I don't care what hipsters and snooty rock critics think about Best Coast, but unfortunately, judging from her lyrics, Cosentino does.  Her insecurity and anxiety are all over the record, she truly wears her heart on her sleeve.  Personally I'm tired of the ironic distance and posturing that are so common in the lyrics of indie rock bands.  I'll take Cosentino over Lana Del Rey any day of the week.  Her music is heart-felt and sincere and if it appeals more to teeny-boppers than the cool kids, well I can live with that.  I hope she stays true to herself and ignores the critics.  Recommended to Jackie DeShannon fans.

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