“I just want to lose that stoner cat girl label and for people to take me more seriously," said Bethany Cosentino recently. Yes, her band's 2010 debut, Crazy for You, won kudos from music critics, cool kids and even Drew Barrymore, who directed one of its videos. But at the same time, the blogworld got preoccupied with its references to weed and mocked one of Cosentino's less than Joni Mitchell-esque lyrics: "I wish my cat could talk."
Cosentino's also admitted that she tired of hearing the term lo-fi attached to her band's indie-meets-girl-group sound. Consequently, she and bandmate Bobb Bruno have recruited Fiona Apple/Kanye West producer Jon Brion to ensure this follow-up is less ramshackle.
Best Coast still sound like Best Coast, but now they're tidier, shinier and looking us right in the eye. The revelation is the vocals. No longer hiding behind harmonies and production fuzz, Cosentino is a strong and confident singer; she attacks No One Like You like a valley girl Patsy Cline.
The album's hat trick of up-tempo cuts are so infectious they recall The Go-Go's, and it's hard not to wish there were a couple more. But most of The Only Place is mid-tempo, introspective and very candid. Written while Cosentino was processing her transition from a shopgirl to indie pin-up, these songs are filled with inertia, confusion, frustration and homesickness. Sample couplet: "I'm always crying on the phone / Because I know that I'll end up alone."
But despite this self-involved subject matter, and Cosentino's strict adherence to the June/moon/spoon school of songwriting, The Only Place never irritates. Thanks to the sweetness of its melodies, the sheer ear candy of its Cali-pop jangle, and the yearning in those vocals, it's less depressing than wistful – like watching the clouds as the sun fades.
Bethany Cosentino is still figuring out who she is – track titles like Better Girl and How They Want Me to Be practically admit as much. But listening to this musically confident and lyrically unflinching second album, it's clear she's no stoner cat girl. --Nick Levine
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