At first, I attempt a bike ride with The Only Place, Best Coast’s latest. It’s spring-going-on-summer, after all, and they’re notorious pop-adepts, catchy and pithy, heavier on concision than meaning. But there’s a hitch in my plan: the fab couple won’t play on my little MP3 gizmo, an equally sun-eager Philips Songbird. The music files are in the wrong format. 50 Cent and El DeBarge once implored their shorties, as if dealing with unresponsive radio stations, to “switch up the format.” Sadly, I can’t ask the same of my inoperable files, so scratch the bike ride. But will these tunes work their way on the spirit outside ideal conditions? I’m not terribly concerned with how far removed from previous hypnagogic incarnation Pocahaunted this is; Best Coast does not leave me eager for history lessons, and good for them. But can they match up with my other favorite coast, the Californian Pacific as seen from Highway 1 through the windows of a rented Kia? Can Bethany and Bobb hack it?
In recent interviews, Beth has called these Jon Brion-produced recordings “pretty different” and “professional,” in comparison to their scuzzier previous album, Crazy For You. But despite the cleanliness and thoughtful audio separation, The Only Place is no better at addressing Beth’s longings, frustrations, and thwarted ideals. She champions superlative places/coasts on the opening title track; home on “Let’s Go Home;” a rejection of materialism and romanticism on “Last Year;” connection instead of abandonment on “Up All Night;” proper REM sleep on “Dreaming My Life Away;” trustworthy friends on “How They Want Me to Be;” and good weather, good times, and self-improvement throughout. But, after the cheery first song, as she waxes nostalgic on “Last Year,” a voidal fear creeps in that never leaves, never offering even provisional resolutions that are substantial, leaving us with neither posi-vibe nor coping mechanism. She continues to crave loving men, safe airplane rides, and getting over the past, natch. She’s hampered by total haziness — a conflation of days with annums — eventually casting everything out the front door. Enter nihilism, exit fun — we may as well forget all about the joyride.
I’m down for learning about “my life” according to Bethany, but wasn’t it a stronger refrain on the last No Age record or on the umpteenth Billy Joel record, better applied to the achievements of a Trotsky or a Golda Meir? Though, I suppose nothing could better encapsulate the futility of nostalgia than the most commonly used title this side of “James” — the most popular male name in the US according to a 1990 census. The whole experience convinces me to run down the street cooing: “this is my life, James,” in my best Bethany Cosentino.
Musically, there’s more self-defeat: a big, slow patch in the middle that equally impedes. The vibraphone dreamscapes don’t click. The ideal places and homes sung about are denied aural idealities. She seems to be setting herself up for an inevitable letdown, that the next bummer of a song on the next similar album will again hazily attempt to address, again within the strictures of sunshine pop: “For now, I’ll write another song,” as she puts it on “Last Year.” On “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To,” she notes that she has no reason to complain, but she persists in cataloging her grievances. It’s the clingiest and most needy record I’ve heard in a while, so maybe in a more confusedly weary state of world-hangover, I’d relate a little more. For now, I’ll listen, but won’t crave it or cling to it.