Bethany Cosentino settles into a comfort zone

Still California dreaming
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  July 10, 2012

W33D + CAT$ 4EVA Despite what snobs might say, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino is keeping it real, and The Only Place shows personal and artistic growth.

Best Coast have caught a lot of flack for not sounding like themselves on their new record, The Only Place (Mexican Summer). Fans of the duo's debut, Crazy for You, complain that the sophomore release — with its pretty/sad vibe and high-resolution production — lacks the fun, lo-fi charm of its predecessor, where singer Bethany Cosentino's stoned musings memorably blended the innocence of girl-group music with the wooziness of '90s indie. But wouldn't it be more fair to say that any record that features both more revealing lyrics and bigger vocals from its main creative force actually might sound more like the band in question?

It is if you accept that Best Coast is, essentially, Bethany Cosentino. These are her concepts, her chords, her lyrics; heck, even the name Best Coast works as an approximation of her own name. She's the one putting herself out there — maybe over the past couple of years, a little too much.

"You never expect that people are going to trash you," she explains via e-mail. "You never expect people are going to come up to you on the street and ask for a picture. It's not something you think about, ever. So when it happens, you're caught off guard. Or at least I was."

Fans of indie rock often like their rising stars to remain modest, and anti-hipster factions are increasingly going after peripherals like Cosentino's clothing line at Urban Outfitters or her blog-baiting romance with Wavves' Nathan Williams just as much as her alleged lack of deserved success. Maybe this is just part of the deal when talent is mixed with youth and glamour; but this doesn't mean Cosentino has to sit back and take it. "I'm definitely at a point in my life now where I can laugh at what haters say and can enjoy my life regardless of the bullshit that's going on outside of it," she says.

It's a defiance reflected in her work, since many of the key elements on The Only Place — confused but honest explorations of love, family, friends, and self; newfound confidence as a leading-lady (inspired by a large dose of country greats) — all seem to come directly from her rejection of negative creative forces. Then there's producer Jon Brion — a name attached to highly credible artists who toe the line between pop and singer-songwriting, a realm perhaps closer to where Cosentino wants to be.

Despite what snobs might say, Cosentino is keeping it real, and these aforementioned celebrity trappings are part and parcel of the fulfillment of her own star. She's the rare case where a humble amount of talent and a ton of star power actually work. The Only Place offers a glimpse into a shallow form of honesty, that while completely non-probing is nevertheless very real. On a song like "My Life," one can almost imagine Cosentino going through a two-minute melodrama while picking out a pack of gum. It's not "Eleanor Rigby," but that's kind of the beauty of it. Existentialism does not always need to be overburdened with metaphors.

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