Best Coast‘s Bethany Cosentino is a Los Angeles native with a brief stay in Brooklyn, and Best Coast’s influences reflects that: Beach Boys vibe with East Coast 60s girl groups such as the Ronnettes and Shangri-Las. Best Coast is brought to life with the help of her long-time friend/guitarist/producer Bobb Bruno and guest drummer Ali Koehler (Vivian Girls). The pair have received heaps of critical praise from editorial publications including Pitchfork, who named their “When I’m With You” single “Best New Music”, New York Times, Spin, Paste, Nylon, Rolling Stone and The Guardian.
As the follow-up to 2010’s acclaimed Crazy For You, The Only Place finds the proudly Southern Californian duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno maturing in both their sound and perspective. While Crazy For You was a nostalgic tribute to teenage feelings, The Only Place finds front woman Cosentino starting a transition into adulthood. “I’m trying really hard to grow up,” she says. “I’m trying to let go of my bad habits and the immature things I still drag around with me.”
Of course this adjusting comes with uncertainty and self-doubt, two feelings at the emotional center of the album.The Only Place also celebrates Los Angeles, the one place where Cosentino believes she can be the woman she wants to be. Taken all together, it evocatively captures a turbulent era in one person’s life. “This record was therapeutic for me to write,” Cosentino says. “But a lot of the issues I was facing will be relatable to anybody. I don’t think you have to be in a band to know how I’m feeling.” The spectrum of the album’s sentiments are captured in a memorable album cover derived from a 1913 sheet music illustration that pays homage to the golden state.
As with all of Best Coast’s previous recordings, on The Only Place Cosentino handles all songwriting, lyrics, vocals and rhythm guitar, while multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno plays lead guitar, bass and drums. What’s new this time is their decision to work with producer and composer Jon Brion. A revered figure in the music world, Brion has collaborated with artists including Fiona Apple and Kanye West and created the scores for such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love. Bruno formerly worked as Brion’s assistant, helping him in the studio and his personal life, and knew the producer was a fan of the band. Recorded at Capitol Records’ famed Studio B, The Only Place features a cleaner and richer sound than other Best Coast releases. Many of the songs’ arrangements are detailed with subtle percussion and unexpected instrumentation. Intricate but never overworked, the biggest change from previous releases is how it showcases Cosentino’s voice, this time letting it ring clear, unhidden by distortion and reverb.
The Only Place is full of heartbreakers and kiss-offs. For “Why I Cry,” the album’s first single, Cosentino delivers a two-minute bottle rocket, dismissing those who think they know everything about her since she’s grown up in public. “No One Like You” is a haunted ballad about remaining loyal to an unreturned love that feels like a midnight lowrider classic. The bop and strings that propel “My Life” are undercut by lyrics looking to come to term with a quarterlife of regrets, while “How They Want Me To Be” is a tear-soaked stunner born out of insomniac revelations.
But the true heart of The Only Place, and everything that Best Coast does, is the collaboration between Cosentino and Bruno. For this album the pair continued to work with the system they developed during the band’s unassuming beginnings: Cosentino creates a rough demo of each song on her own with vocals and a basic guitar part, then sends it to Bruno who fleshes out the instrumentation and structure. The only time they work on the song together is when they are in the studio. Bruno is a music veteran and has recorded, producer and engineered with a wide variety of artists. “Best Coast is the easiest thing I’ve ever done musically,” he says. “We don’t really argue. I told Beth from day one, ‘If you ever don’t like something I’m doing or you want to change something, just tell me. I know it’s not personal. My feeling aren’t going to get hurt.’ Having established that before we even played a single note together, we’ve always had clear communication.” Cosentino adds, “This record would not have been anywhere near what it is without Bobb Bruno. I owe so much to him. I am so thankful have him in my life and having him turn these things I write in my bedroom into epic songs.”