For their second album, The Only Place, California duo Best Coast hired Jon Brion as producer. Right away it's clear that the fuzzily lo-fi noise pop sound of their debut, Crazy for You, was a thing of the past, and the band was looking to smooth things out quite noticeably. Hiring Brion to produce a noise pop record is like asking Rothko to paint your mailbox. What he and the band have done is replace the simplistic drone of the distorted guitars with a more layered, much janglier sound, added tons of space to the arrangements, and made sure each song gets the sonic approach it needs instead of the set-it-up-and-record-it style of Crazy. The result is an album that has a classic pop/rock sound that anyone who's heard an R.E.M. or Beach Boys or Springsteen record will instantly identify with and understand. It may disappoint anyone who wanted Crazy for You, Pt. 2, but the band didn't make this record for those people. On a sonic level alone, the record works very well. Bethany Cosentino reliably writes super-catchy melodies and sings them winningly, Bobb Bruno does a fine job filling in the songs with hooky guitar lines, and Brion adds the little touches that have made his name as a producer. The uptempo songs have a light bounce that will have people bopping along, the ballads have fully realized arrangements that sound dreamy as can be, and the whole record has a warmth that was missing from anything the band did before. The problem lies with Cosentino's awful lyrics. What seemed cute and only a little awkward in the past is now extremely clunky and slightly ridiculous. That her lyrics are shallow isn't such a big deal -- it didn't ruin Crazy -- but the real problem is that this time they are gratingly personal to the point of being like diary entries (as on "My Life" with the lines "My mom was right/I don't wanna die/I wanna live my life") or smug (on her title-track ode to California that includes the deathless rhyme "We've got the ocean, we've got the babes/We've got the sun, we've got the waves") or just plain boring and/or embarrassing (most everywhere else). Instead of making Crazy for You, Pt. 2, she's made Crazy for Me, Me, Me. When lyrics are so endlessly, inwardly directed as they are on The Only Place, there needs to be some spark of something interesting cooking in there, or the result will be an album that looks like a delicious cake but tastes like sawdust and chalk when you bite into it. Give the group credit for taking a step forward from Crazy for You: the album sounds great, full of catchy and well-crafted songs. Too bad it all falls apart so drastically when you factor in Cosentino's disastrous lyrics.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra