Surf rock is on its way back. Whether it’s the punked-out bliss of Wavves or the crisp pop-hooks of Tennis, surf has creeped out of its murky L.A. basement and back onto the airwaves. Claiming influences in the Beach Boys, the Sex Pistols, and everything in between, the genre’s 21st century revival has been a bit of a godsend. Lo-fi California band Best Coast broke into the scene on the stoner-pop side of the genre, layering 60s girl group vocals with lo-fi production and punk guitar. Their first album, Crazy For You, was the gorgeous, fuzzy soundtrack to a perfect day on the Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately, Best Coast departs significantly from this sound on their sophomore release. On The Only Place, the L.A.-based duo replaces candid emotion and lo-fi production with mediocre songwriting and inelegant lyrics.
Of course, lead singer Bethany Cosentino has never been a great lyricist. On Crazy For You, she purred straightforward lines about unrequited love — yet it was this very simplicity that made the album appealing. Sadly, their second album proves that there’s a difference between simple, and, well, stupid. Cosentino continues to confide about her disappointing love life, but to far lesser effect. Forced rhymes, childish complaints, and grating repetition are the most noticeable lyrical problems. Beyond a lack of poeticism, however, The Only Place is equally marred by its complete lack of inspiration. The album certainly isn’t bad, but Best Coast’s new sound is predominantly boring.
While beachy guitar and layered vocals serve as welcome reminders of the duo’s days gone by, Best Coast largely shun their beach punk past, choosing instead a hi-fi pop that sounds more like Rilo Kiley than the Black Lips. Predictable melodies, redundant riffs, and unoriginal lyrics get old quick, an impressive feat on a 34-minute album. Furthermore, the complete lack of lo-fi will prove frustrating for Crazy For You devotees. Best Coast first made their name as the hazy companion to a sandy July afternoon, so their move to a clearer, more mainstream persona is surprising and not terribly successful.
That’s not to say that The Only Place is all bad. The album opens with the title track — and one of the best tunes on the album. An upbeat testament to the glory that is California, “The Only Place” could feasibly claim roots in country, and Cosentino’s imploring “why would you live anywhere else?” has us Golden State ex-pats aching with regret. Later, “No One Like You” and “Up All Night” depart most inventively from Best Coast’s roots. The Only Place as a whole plays it safe, scaling back the duo’s garage influences and eliminating the honey-slathered fuzz, yet these two tracks exemplify the variety of dark dream-pop popularized by Mazzy Star and Beach House.
However, the success of those three songs casts the remainder of the album in stark contrast. The Only Place is brimming with redundancies and unimaginative composition, songs that continuously loop without ever reaching a climax. The album’s low points include “Last Year” and “How They Want Me To Be,” a pair of repetitive laments featuring whiny lyrics like “When I go out I don’t feel anything / I just keep on spending my money.” The remainder of The Only Place continues in a similar vein — sad, self-pitying, and dull.
In a recent interview, Best Coast said their style of writing was “pretty different” and they recorded this album in “a much more professional studio.” Neither of these facts provides us with any revelatory insight, but they sure do explain the too-polished production and prosaic lyrics. In the end, Best Coast’s sophomore release fails to deliver the delicious grittiness of Crazy For You. If their earlier music was like the heartbroken lament of a long-lost summer fling, this newest album is like that obnoxious friend that still hasn’t gotten over their last relationship.
Stream ‘The Only Place’ in its entirety here.