The Only Place
A few years ago, I was one of the first (probably the first) Aussie journalist to seek out an interview with future indie darling Bethany Cosantino, aka "Betty Best Coast." It was before the release of her band's debut record Crazy For You and she was riding the reverb wave of hype that her first few singles and debut EP had generated around her and cohort Bob Best Coast. It was mostly an "introduction to Best Coast" chat — What were the origins of the band? Where did she get her summer vibez? What's with her feline fetish? etc. It was a fifteen minute phoner, but she was pleasant and generally stoked that someone was showing interest in her music.
Around six months later, when I contacted the band's management again to see if I could get a second interview with Ms Betty in the lead up to Best Coast's first Australian tour, I received a fairly blunt reply saying something along the lines of, "Ahhh yeah, we're not going to be doing that."
Admittedly the band had just appeared on Letterman the previous night and their debut album had scored them a large dollop of acclaim throughout the blogosphere, (including from this writer) as Betty and Bob kicked it with the Pitchfork crew, designed hipster uniforms for Urban Outfitters and posed for Converse commercials alongside a who's who of the indieverse. They'd come a long way in a short period of time — all of which didn't stop me from dismissing them both as cunts for turning down a second interview.
I later realised though, that this was my first indication that Best Coast would be aiming for bigger, more mature things in their future. No longer would they partake in interviews with a website that is unashamed of its extensive use of the c-bomb and rates things in the eternally hilarious 'Reacharounds'.
Then I found out that their sophomore album would be produced by Hollywood wonder producer Jon Brion (Kanye, Spoon, Elliot Smith, a million movie scores). Again, this struck me as a clear indication that the band would be going for a Phil Spector-esque spit and polish job (and by that I mean production clean-up, rather than say cleaning the prints off a 38 revolver) in an attempt to elevate their sound to greater heights and catapult themselves into superstardom, aka Bonning their Iver.
The result of that maturity quest is the band's sophomore effort, The Only Place, and I am vengefully glad to say that they've failed.
Despite his skills on the mixing board and in the studio, Brion's production technique of sucking away the trippy Los Angeles haze that drifted through Crazy For You (in what I assume was an attempt to reveal the best these California cool kids have to offer), has unintentionally exposed Cosentino for what she really is — a fairly mediocre songwriter.
Sure she has a strong and definitive voice, but when you Earth the cables and stop the buzz running through the amps of the guitars and the ears of the listener, all you are left with are some fairly bland melodies and lyrics that have failed to evolve from a year three poetry writing lesson (sup Mrs Davies?!).
Tracks like When I Cry and How They Want Me To Be feel formulaic and forced, like Cosentino was trying to recapture what she nailed on Crazy For You while presenting herself and her music as more rounded and complete — more album, less demo. But when you compare these tracks to stand outs on CFY like Boyfriend or When I'm With You they pale in comparison. Those songs hummed with a genuine sweetness and naivety that was charming and unpretentious and would ring around in your head for days — while When I Cry and How They Want Me To Be, barely rattle their way out of the speakers they ooze from.
On The Only Place, Best Coast have done everything in their power to look like they've grown up. But just putting on a suit and tie or a pearl necklace and some lipstick doesn't make you mature. You have to evolve and grow as a person or, in this case, as an artist. I feel if Best Coast had focused more on their art and their songwriting and less on their public image they could have reached that goal. Instead they thought hiring someone to do the job for them would work. It hasn't.
So Best Coast, when you guys are finished being humbled by the lacklustre reaction your new "mature" album has garnered, feel free to shoot me an email for that interview you turned down. I'll be sure to respond with a prompt and professional, "Ahhh yeah, I'm not going to be doing that."