Bethany Cosentino’s love affair with California is not exactly clandestine. From the name of her band to the inclusion of the state’s likeliness on two consecutive album covers, the BestCoast frontwoman’s obsessions with all things Golden State is so profuse that it practically rivals the Beach Boys. In fact, it’s pretty much a given that if you know who Cosentino is, then you’re also fully aware that the only thing on this earth that matters to her more than the country’s most populous state is her cat, Snacks. California and Snacks were part of the artwork template for BestCoast’s 2010 debut, Crazy for You – an apt title for an album that wholeheartedly embraced wide-eyed teenage musings.
On BestCoast’s new The Only Place LP, Cosentino has replaced the image of her precious Maine Coon with that of aCalifornia grizzly bear cuddling an atlas cutout of its home state. Subtlety, this isn’t. But then again, high falutin’ dashes of allegory have never been a part of the draw here. People listen to Best Coast because sometimes it’s just way easier – and a lot more fun – to absorb a strummy 3-minute pop song about unrequited love on the beach than it is to, say, critically analyze a leviathan piece of art that draws its inspiration from the Greek myth of Hyacinthus.
Like a majority of the BestCoast catalog, The Only Place succeeds on a blueprint of brevity and conspicuous sentimentality. Cosentino claims that her turbulent mid-20s were the catalyst for the more mature themes presented on the new record. The tidier production – handled deftly by Jon Brion – bespeaks this fact, but elsewhere there’s a pervasive naivety that will have people of all ages lusting for their adolescent years again.
And, sure as a sunny day in Orange County, The Only Place opens with the sprightly title track – a little summertime pop nugget that asks pressing questions (“Why would you live anywhere else?”) while introducing the first of many bits of West Coast braggadocio (“We wake up with the sun in our eyes / it’s no surprise / that we get so much done”) over a jovial country rock groove. Similar waters are charted on “Let’s Go Home,” a strummy tune filled with the anticipatory joy of returning to California after an extended hiatus: “There’s a place I can go / where all my secrets / no one knows / I’ll meet you there / cause I don’t wanna be anywhere else / but home.”
While there’s certainly something to be said for BestCoast’s paeans to the utopian side of life near the Pacific, the subtle shifts in Cosentino’s songwriting are best experienced when the rays of sunshine are muted. “Last Year” smacks of pubescent histrionics (“I used to believe in you and me / but now I believe in nothing”), but there’s also something oddly satisfying about a song that feels like it was meant to be sung by Sandy Dumbrowski.
Many of the other tracks that deal with less convivial fare find Cosentino placing emphasis on atmosphere. “Dreaming My Life Away” is a swirling reverie replete with unorthodox drum patterns from Bobb Bruno and undulating vibraphone arpeggios. The extended harmonic colors make this the closest brush BestCoast has ever had with jazz music. “No One Like You” is a slice of star-crossed dream pop, featuring Brion’s lush work at the controls, reverb and tremolo effects, and Cosentino’s schoolgirl entreaties (“If I pack up my things and leave / can I still be the queen to your king?”). Though the textures are slightly grittier, “Why I Cry” explores similar themes of woe, as our heroine laments her post-breakup lifestyle: “Walk in around a haze / seems to be the way I spend my days / I’m stuck in the gray.”
As with its predecessor, it’s Bethany Cosentino’s ubiquitous California dreamin’ that’ll produce the greatest yield on The Only Place. Nostalgic ruminations on teenage drama have been around since Frankie laid his first blanket down next to Annette, and Cosentino knows it. Rather than take derisive or pretentious swipes at that iconic piece of American pop culture history, Best Coast celebrates its legacy ardently on The Only Place.