Best Coast 

The Only Place

Flash poll: Raise your hand if you can hum a single song from Best Coast's fun'n'sun-soaked 2010 debut, Crazy for You. Because I can't, and I must've listened to the album a hundred times. Indeed, that record was, much like its subject matter, easy to love but almost equally easy to forget — superficially pleasant, for sure, but ultimately made famous more for frontwoman Bethany Cosentino's online persona than for any truly groundbreaking musicianship represented in its winsome guitar-based surf-pop.

So, for that reason, it'd be natural to expect more of the same from Cosentino and Bobb Bruno's sophomore effort. And: It is and it isn't. On the surface — and especially, after the first song, an addictively boppy ode to California that actually dares, without irony, to rhyme "waves" and "babes" — this sounds like Cosentino and Bruno exactly as we left them: skipping through another SoCal summer, sun-faded and stoned, all major keys and cheerful melodies, easy but not necessarily ambitious.

But there's a darker, more downtempo soul in there, one that comes out only occasionally and which is made all the more powerful as a result. It's a sort of yowling woundedness, a new willingness to admit that the California sky gets a little cloudy at times, and it works gorgeously against Jon Brion's airtight production. The guitars are cleaner, Cosentino's voice is clearer, and the whole thing feels, well, a little more grown-up. If Crazy felt like a summer fling, The Only Place is the real deal. (Mexican Summer)

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