6:04 PM EDT, May 14, 2012
3 stars (out of 4)
On Best Coast’s 2010 debut, “Crazy for You,” Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno made perfectly fizzy California guitar-pop, catchy as all get-out. Even when Cosentino pined for an elusive boyfriend, it felt almost uplifting, in part because she’s got the kind of strong, transparent voice that recalls the charm and innocence of the best girl-group singers of the ‘60s. She’s yearning for something she can’t have, yes, but it’s nothing a walk on the beach couldn’t cure.
“The Only Place” (Mexican Summer) amps up the production by bringing in Jon Brion, who has worked with Kanye West, Fiona Apple and Spoon, among others. Brion keeps the focus on Cosentino’s sure voice and swooning harmonies. Melody rules, thanks to countless wordless vocal hooks and Bruno’s surf-guitar fills. Excursions into more orchestrated pop evoke the work of Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield (“Up All Night”) and a countrypolitan ballad affirms that Cosentino continues to mature and grow as a singer (“No One Like You”). Cool little touches abound, from the chiming percussion that enhances the dusky “Dreaming My Life Away” to the waltz-time vocal coda in “Last Year.”
The album’s also darker, more melancholy than its predecessor. Besides “The Only Place,” essentially an advertisement for California (“Why would you live anywhere else?”), Cosentino’s narrators spend a lot of time examining how empty their lives are without the boys they covet. Fortunately, she’s got a backbone, too. Over watery guitar and hauntingly beautiful backing harmonies in “How They Want me to Be,” Cosentino explains what she wants most in a partner: somebody who allows her to be herself. It’s the kind of revelation that can redeem an album, if not the difficult passage into adulthood.
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