They can’t all be California Gurls, but Bethany Cosentino has embodied the role as proudly as anyone this side of Katy Perry. Following a stint in New York, the Los Angeles native’s debut album with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno as Best Coast, 2010′s Crazy for You, poured reverb on the Byrds’ guitar jangle, the early Beach Boys’ lovesickness, and ’90s-indie-rock’s frankness, resulting in dispensary-grade West Coast pop. The duo’s equally brilliant follow-up, The Only Place, lies back on the same beach blanket, but moves to vastly more inclusive shores.
Quintessential L.A. musician-about-town Jon Brion imbues Best Coast’s former fuzz with Fleetwood Mac’s crystalline sheen, though the celebrated film composer’s touch is lighter here than on his productions for Fiona Apple and Kanye West. The album is very nearly bookended by Southern California odes, from the boppy, babes/waves title track, which convincingly buys its own La La Land postcard, to penultimate charmer “Let’s Go Home,” which alludes to not one but two Beach Boys oldies. Even a seeming outlier like crunching waltz-time working-musician lament “Last Year,” with its barroom la-de-da outro, makes sense when you remember Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” was an L.A. song, too.
Brion’s clean production allows Cosentino’s blunt, forceful voice to shine, and it’s increasingly becoming an instrument that recalls Neko Case or newcomer Lydia Loveless. The Internet’s most notorious cat lady advances her anxieties, too, but can’t shake them, and she masterfully links her Urban Outfitters-people problems to more relatable romantic angst (“Why I Cry,” “How They Want Me to Be”). A “Valley Girl Patsy Cline,” in one outlet’s enviably perfect words, Cosentino can be old-fashioned about her heartache (“No One Like You”), but she rarely describes boys in terms she wouldn’t also use for her hometown. Fittingly, then, the album’s peak, the Phil Spector-lavish finale “Up All Night,” is about two people divided by geography. If Cosentino ever moves back east again, Best Coast’s next album could be one hell of a break-up record.