Ever since Best Coast released their full length debut, Crazy For You, (Mexican Summer, 2010,) there are two things you know about Bethany Consentino and Bobb Bruno: 1) you never know who their drummer is at any given point and you probably never will and 2) their favorite music effect is reverberation (or “reverb”). Or should I say “was”? Because their sophomore album on Mexican Summer records, The Only Place, doesn’t have a trace of it.
When you first hear the album, you’re stunned, maybe even a little upset, if you’re a really big Best Coast fan. Consentino has said that she initially used the reverb to hide her voice because she always thought she wasn’t a very talented singer (Source) but if anything, it was their trademark and it enhanced their laid back, surf pop sound. Even though this is true, The Only Place has some staying power after the initial shock passes. It’s definitely something that will grow on you as you keep listening. You’ll be listening to “Up All Night” while brushing your teeth one day thinking, “that’s actually really good!”
The duo starts with an upbeat, but almost a little too upbeat, anthem for California with the same title as the album. It’s as catchy as “Call Me Maybe” but it’s probably the weakest song on the record. It’s very repetitive lyrically and instrumentally. The three songs after that, “Why I Cry,” “Last Year,” and “My Life,” are lyrically very impressive, for Consentino. You can tell she’s getting more comfortable with word play (“What a day this year has been/what a year this day has been” in “Last Year,”) and being more emotionally direct in her lyrics: “My mom was right/I don’t wanna die/I wanna live my life,” in “My Life.” A huge step forward for the band and a sign of Consentino being more confident.
The last half of the record have much more slower songs. “How They Want Me to Be,” “Dreaming My Life Away” and “Up All Night.” Since “How They Want Me to Be” and “Up All Night” were previously released as demos by Consentino and Bruno, it’s interesting to hear the final product and how different they are. This is probably due to working with Jon Brion, previous producer of Fiona Apple and Kanye West. The slower songs seem to be where you can detect his influence.
“Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is the highlight of this album. With reverb and other effects they’ve used in the past, it could have possibly been the highlight of Best Coast’s career, so far. When a song can represent everything that the band embodies, they seem to always be the best songs and “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is one of those songs. “Boyfriend” on Crazy For You is another example of that. The only weakness of “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is the repetition of the lyrics, like “The Only Place,” but the last verse almost makes up for it:
I’m always running down the street/I don’t remember what it means to be me/I’ve left all of that shit behind/But still I seem to loose my mind.
Haven’t we all felt that? The image Consentino puts into the listener’s head is so striking because it’s so raw and specific.
It will be interesting to see if Consentino and Bruno bring back reverb in their future music. For now though, it would be okay, I guess, if they didn’t bring it back. I guess. After listening to this for almost a month every day, it’s clear that Consentino and Bruno don’t have to duck under their reverb distortion pedals no longer. But reverb would still be nice.
Rating: 9 out of 10
x-posted on Scene Point Blank.