Best Coast’s populist, polarizing brand of fun

Best Coast after spending some time with a flask
David Black

Los Angeles indie-pop duo Best Coast has become a veritable phenomenon. The act consists of Bethany Cosentino — singer and public face — and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, and their sunny, fuzzy 2010 debut record, Crazy for You, sold very well and won great reviews. Cosentino, 25, has become an underground celebrity in her own right; to give you an idea of just how famous she is, her cat, Snacks, has almost 10,000 Twitter followers.

Bruno, who is 38, was born in the same Glendale hospital as Cosentino. He helps mold the songs and plays drums, bass, and other instruments on Best Coast's recordings. Largely removed from the public eye, he's more focused on the music. Best Coast's sophomore release, The Only Place, which came out in May, has a much cleaner sound than its debut.

On the title track, everything in Best Coast's sound that wasn't ready for the radio — the woolly guitars, the off-kilter choruses — is replaced by friendly hooks.

The album was recorded at Capitol Studios with superproducer Jon Brion, who co-produced Kanye West's seminal hip-hop record Late Registration and a beloved early version of Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine.

Working with Brion is a huge deal, since he often makes classic albums, but early reviews for The Only Place have not been good. Like Crazy for You, it is an ode to California — the cover shows a bear hugging an outline of the state — told through unapologetically poppy riffs. Again the lyrics remain regressively banal: "We have fun, we have fun, we have fun when we please" and "I'm always crying on the phone because I know I'll end up alone."

Bruno defends the work and insists context is needed. "Our biggest influences are bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys. In that music people don't sing in metaphors," he says. "We're not trying to be an exclusive band for a certain kind of people."

By "certain people" one suspects he means the writers and readers of publications that heaped praise upon the band's first record, such as Pitchfork, which awarded Crazy for You its "Best New Music" stamp.

There are hundreds and hundreds of indie bands in Los Angeles, and Best Coast is among the most famous. If it weren't for the considerable backlash, their ascent might seem like a fairy tale. Cosentino is an easy target: She's beautiful, she has a well-known boyfriend (Nathan Williams of Wavves), and she got really famous relatively quickly. Some outlets have been particularly cruel; for reasons that aren't entirely clear, the snarky website Hipster Runoff trashes her often, even posting drawings of her beloved cat, skinned and with worms coming out of its eyes.

"I don't read any of that anymore," she says, speaking on the phone while waiting for a photo shoot to start. It's clear that she's very busy. "It took me a long time to get past all of that. But I just don't care anymore."

The issue may be one of perception — there is an idea floating around that Best Coast is trying to be something other than what it really is. That could have something to do with the scene Cosentino emerged from, full of noise-punk acts like No Age and innovative bands like the Mae Shi. And Cosentino's previous project, Pocahaunted, featured experimental droning as opposed to sunshine pop. But Best Coast is a band that writes nice, simple songs you don't have to think about too much.

"I honestly don't give a fuck," Cosentino says when asked about her frustrated indie critics. Her attitude is refreshing and a little bit empowering; she's willing to stand by the Best Coast brand, not unlike another Southern California singer who's been accused of playing dumb. An "indie-budget Katy Perry" is how the Guardian has referred to Cosentino; the BBC, on the other hand, prefers a "Valley girl Patsy Cline."

So which is it? When it comes to Best Coast's music — at least if the disappointing The Only Place is any indication — the group's artistic development seems stunted, veering at this point a bit closer to Perry than Cline.

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